On a call with reporters from across the nation, Culinary Union and UNITE HERE union leaders acknowledged the stark new world of novel coronavirus and COVID-19, where social distancing is our “new normal”. They then called on Congress to act boldly and swiftly to ensure that workers who are suddenly out of work have the physical and financial security they need to survive this global pandemic.
“The gaming industry is completely shut down. That’s the heart of Las Vegas. […] That provides middle-class jobs. But now, we’re not working.”
– Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Culinary Union
As we’ve been discussing for over a week, the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 have formed a virulent wrecking ball that’s whacking into Nevada’s tourism-dependent economy. As Governor Steve Sisolak (D) himself acknowledged while urging everyone to “Stay Home for Nevada”, Nevadans across the board are taking a big financial hit in order to adhere to medical professionals’ guidance on social distancing in order to curb the spread of coronavirus.
On a press call this morning, officials from UNITE HERE got more specific in describing the gravity of this crisis. UNITE HERE National President D. Taylor specifically warned, “This crisis has reduced our workforce to only 10% of what it normally is.” Later in the call, Taylor reiterated that recent business shutdown guidelines, “remain in place” orders, and other COVID-19 responsive measures have resulted in 80%-90% of UNITE HERE members losing work. (The Culinary Union is a UNITE HERE affiliated union.)
Closer to home, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline addressed the impact of all Nevada casino resorts shutting down: “The gaming industry is completely shut down. That’s the heart of Las Vegas. […] That provides middle-class jobs. But now, we’re not working.”
She then addressed what workers here must contend with in the coming days: “Right now, they’re not only worrying about getting sick. They’re worrying about their shelter, how they’ll get food, how they’ll pay their utility bills.”
“I hear people will be getting $1,000. In most American cities, $1,000 won’t pay the rent. If you land in the emergency room, $1,000 won’t pay the [hospital bill].”
– D. Taylor, UNITE HERE (international)
In the past 72 hours, Republicans in Congress and the White House who had previously warned of the “dangers of socialism” have suddenly endorsed a $1 trillion+ stimulus package that will include bailouts for companies in multiple sectors (including airlines and hotels), and some of them are going a little further in endorsing some form of emergency UBI/direct cash aid for individuals. Some House Democrats, including Nevada’s own Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas), have since rallied behind legislation guaranteeing more robust UBI alongside additional aid by way of expanding social safety net programs like SNAP, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid.
When asked about the brand new bipartisan UBI love-fest, Taylor wasn’t impressed. He did clarify, “We support putting cash in people’s hands.” He then stressed that any $1 trillion+ relief package must not solely include corporate bailouts and UBI, but also expansion of social safety net programs, universal paid sick leave, and more robust housing aid.
Earlier in the call, Taylor noted, “I hear people will be getting $1,000. In most American cities, $1,000 won’t pay the rent. If you land in the emergency room, $1,000 won’t pay the [hospital bill].” And when it comes to President Donald Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut, Taylor scoffed, “I don’t know why they’re talking about a payroll tax cut. If you’re not working, you’re not on the payroll.”
“We need the government to step up. […] We need to have sick pay. We need to have quarantine pay. We need to have resources on hand for workers to survive.”
– Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Culinary Union
While UNITE HERE’s D. Taylor had harsh words for Trump, his criticism of the federal government’s coronavirus response efforts didn’t stop at the White House gates. Towards the end of the call, Taylor stated, “We were told there’d be enough [COVID-19] testing for the American people. [That was] a lie. We were told there will be sick leave for American workers. [That’s] not true. Now we’re being told that we’ll be paid cash money, but there’s far more our workers need. We’ll see.”
More specifically, Taylor faulted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) for acquiescing to Republican demands to weaken the paid sick leave provision of House Democrats’ Families First Coronavirus Response Act to the point where up to 19.6 million American workers won’t be guaranteed any paid sick leave absent additional legislation. Taylor echoed economists like the Economic Policy Institute’s Elise Gould who have been arguing that our metastasizing COVID-19/coronavirus crisis requires America to act bolder and faster in guaranteeing paid sick leave in order to reassure workers that they won’t be punished for doing the right thing (as in, practicing scientists’ and health authorities’ guidelines for social distancing).
During the UNITE HERE press call, the Culinary Union’s Geoconda Arguello-Kline thanked MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts for taking early action to close their properties and compensate workers. She also faulted other gaming companies for their delay in taking such action to protect workers’ physical and financial health.
Arguello-Kline then declared, “We need the government to step up. […] We need to have sick pay. We need to have quarantine pay. We need to have resources on hand for workers to survive.”
“We need a bailout of the American worker, not just American industry.”
– D. Taylor, UNITE HERE
In addition to Taylor and Arguello-Kline, UNITE HERE and the Culinary Union opened the (virtual) floor to local union leaders in other regions, such as the very hard-hit Seattle metropolitan area, to add further exclamation points to their message to federal decision-makers that they must do more. Since Seattle and New York City have even higher costs of living, a $1,000 emergency UBI payment will do even less for workers there who have to cover their housing, food, and utility costs.
Throughout the call, D. Taylor insisted, “We need a bailout of the American worker, not just American industry.” And he’s not alone in demanding this, as a growing chorus of economists are urging Congress not to make the same mistakes from the Great Recession era. We’ll see in the coming hours how many in Congress are actually taking their advice.
While we await further federal action, let’s remember how we can act to help each other now: If you’re in need of medical treatment, contact your primary health care provider first. If you fear you can’t afford treatment from a hospital or doctor’s office, check with the Southern Nevada Health District, Washoe County Health District, Carson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Mutual Aid Disaster Relief and local groups like Three Square.