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“This Is Life or Death”: Culinary Union and SEIU 1107 Demand Action to Protect Workers

During a virtual press conference earlier today, Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline and a group of SEIU 1107 leaders demanded that companies that continue to call essential workers to work do more to protect these workers. As workers in hospitals and in other essential businesses continue to work without sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), Culinary and SEIU leaders called on these companies’ executives to “make a moral decision to do the right thing”.

Or as Arguello-Kline put it, “This is life or death. That’s what it is.”

“I know staffers around the [Las Vegas] Valley who are reusing masks that were designed for single-use. It goes against our training. […] We’re doing what we can with what we have, but we need more.” 
– Jody Domineck, registered nurse and SEIU 1107 member
SEIU
Photo by Andrew Davey

Despite President Donald Trump’s claims to the contrary, PPE remains in dangerously short supply here in Nevada and across America. As Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline described it, “I can see with every worker right now, whether they’re in the hospital or in the supermarket. I know the pain these families feel. My daughter is a nurse in intensive care. I know she’s risking her life.”

Back in January, we met Sunrise registered nurse and SEIU 1107 member Jody Domineck and listened as she implored upon the Democratic presidential candidates to advance solutions to “help Americans stay alive”. Today, Domineck simply confirmed, “The struggle for PPE in Las Vegas continues.”

Photo by Andrew Davey

Domineck then detailed how local hospital staff are working around low PPE supply. According to Domineck, “I know staffers around the [Las Vegas] Valley who are reusing masks that were designed for single-use. It goes against our training. […] We’re doing what we can with what we have, but we need more.”

A little later, SEIU 1107 Executive Director Grace Vergara-Mectal responded to a question on whether OSHA (the federal agency tasked with enforcing workplace safety rules). On OSHA, she answered, “Yes, I think OSHA should be in the hospitals to see what’s going on. In fact, SEIU is preparing to file plenty of charges with OSHA.”

“We need to make sure every essential worker, not just health care workers, have the PPE they need to survive. Sadly, they do not have the PPE they require and deserve.” 
– Brenda Marzan, SEIU 1107
SEIU
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last weekend, Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox made waves with his Nevada Independent op-ed detailing his “Plan to Reopen Nevada”. Maddox’s plan calls for the state phasing in a reopening of stores and offices early next month, followed by a phased-in reopening of hotels and casinos later in May. Maddox bases his “Plan to Reopen Nevada” on “increases in COVID-19 testing velocity” and sufficient supply of hospital space and medical supplies.

Arguello-Kline didn’t specifically endorse Maddox’s timeline, but she did praise Wynn Resorts for maintaining full pay and benefits for workers. As Arguello-Kline put it, “We’re going to work with the company. We’re going to work with Wynn. We’re going to make sure they do the cleaning that’s needed [to reopen].”

But as the SEIU crew described the situation in their workplaces, their remarks cast doubt on the feasibility of Maddox’s seemingly measured and rational timeline for reopening businesses. SEIU 1107 President Brenda Marzan not only seconded Domineck’s assessment of the PPE shortage in hospitals, but she also noted that SEIU members in other workplaces also face PPE shortages. As Marzan put it, “We need to make sure every essential worker, not just health care workers, have the PPE they need to survive. Sadly, they do not have the PPE they require and deserve.”

“Solidarity is what we need right now, more than ever.”
– Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Culinary Union
Culinary Union
Photo by Andrew Davey

While Donald Trump and fellow Republicans, such as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R), are angling to pit essential workers against Americans who have had to stay home, Arguello-Kline rejected their framing and called on all workers to stick together to care for each other. Instead, she insisted, “Solidarity is what we need right now, more than ever.”

SEIU’s Marzan then chimed in and made clear that whether it’s workers at the local hospitals, workers at the grocery stores, or workers at the casinos that may or may not begin to reopen next month, “We join together to demand that these corporations move beyond their bottom lines and profits to do what’s right for their workers. We demand the immediate investment in the resources workers need to survive, including PPE and equipment, now.”

Apparently while I was watching SEIU’s and Culinary’s press conference, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman went on MSNBC to rebut Diamond Resorts founder Stephen Cloobeck’s insistence that, “She has nothing to do with The Strip!” Instead of addressing this lack of PPE supply and/or Nevada’s ongoing COVID-19 testing shortage, Goodman struggled to respond to MSNBC anchor Katy Tur’s assessment of Goodman’s call for an immediate end to the business shutdown orders as “survival of the fittest”.

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 DistrictWashoe County Health DistrictCarson City Health and Human Services, or the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services for resources in your area. For additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square.

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