Nevada unions have filed a lawsuit accusing two Las Vegas Strip resort companies of failing to protect workers from COVID-19.
A joint board including Nevada’s largest union, Culinary Union Local 226, and Bartenders Local 165 claims properties owned by MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corporation have not shut down work areas upon learning about positive COVID-19 cases. The plaintiffs also claim MGM failed to immediately inform employees of positive tests among their coworkers.
The unions represent 60,000 hospitality workers, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered nonessential businesses, including casinos, to shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since Las Vegas’ gaming industry reopened June 4, the plaintiffs claim the defendants have “adopted unreasonable rules and procedures for addressing the spread of COVID-19.” These procedures lack “critical elements” necessary to protect workers, the coronavirus lawsuit claims.
In addition to not informing employees of positive COVID-19 test results and refusing to shut down exposed areas, the defendants allegedly failed to conduct adequate contact tracing before allowing employees who were exposed to the coronavirus to return to work.
The plaintiffs say the defendants also have provided workers with false information about the ways COVID-19 spreads and its symptoms “in an effort to keep workers on the job and revenues flowing.”
“This lawsuit … is just the beginning of the culinary union’s legal efforts to make sure workers are fully protected,” secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, Geoconda Argüello-Kline, told Eater.
Although a statewide mandate requiring everyone to wear a mask in public went into effect June 26, the plaintiffs say the defendants “have stubbornly refused to require their guests to wear face coverings while in public areas of their hotels and casinos, or while having direct contact with workers.”
Despite the consensus stating mandatory mask wearing is helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19, for the first 20 days after Nevada’s casinos reopened the defendants allowed guests to be on their property without wearing any facial covering, the Las Vegas COVID-19 lawsuit says.
“This irresponsible act undoubtedly led to spread of COVID-19 among Joint Board members,” the complaint says.
In fact, the governor’s statewide mask mandate came after a four-week climb in cases of COVID-19.
According to local media reports, the Culinary Union is demanding the following of casinos:
- Cleaning guest rooms daily
- Enforcement of mandatory COVID-19 testing of all employees before returning to work, with regular testing thereafter
- Adequate COVID-19 personal protective equipment to be provided for employees
- Enforcement of social distancing and other prevention measures
Allegations at each property are due to the lack of a requirement for guests to wear masks, and management failing to alert workers in a timely manner about being exposed to coworkers who tested positive for COVID-19.
Upon reopening, The Signature at MGM Grand, which consists of three towers, consolidated all its services at one tower with fewer scheduled workers, leading to “chaos,” the lawsuit states.
Workers reportedly had regular, prolonged interactions with unmasked guests.
On June 5, The Signature held COVID-19 procedure training in a meeting room at the MGM Convention Center for valets and bell and door persons, according to the complaint. At least two Signature employees who later tested positive for COVID-19 attended the training. However, the company allegedly allowed employees to continue working, failed to properly disinfect, and failed to share information about the infection with other employees.
Harrah’s Las Vegas is connected to another hotel, The LINQ, by a retail and food corridor called the Promenade. Among the restaurants in the Promenade is Guy Fieri Vegas Kitchen and Bar, which is co-managed by Harrah’s, the lawsuit says.
On June 18, a food runner at Guy Fieri tested positive for COVID-19, the complaint states. The plaintiffs believe Harrah’s was aware of the positive result on that date, yet allegedly allowed employees to continue to work in potentially contaminated areas.
According to the unions’ complaint, a food runner at Sadelle’s Café in the Bellagio told the hotel on June 11 that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Because of the way the kitchen is set up, food runners are unable to stand six feet away from other runners as they wait for food to come off the line.
A Sadelle’s manager told two other food runners there had been a positive COVID-19 case but said, “not to worry about the positive test because they were washing hands and wearing masks,” the complaint states. “But she suggested that they get tested.”
Another Sadelle’s employee was contacted by the Bellagio’s human resources department, which advised her that one of her co-workers had tested positive and she should get tested, the lawsuit says. She asked if she should wait for her test results to come back that Monday before returning to work, and was told she’d be safe to return for her Sunday shift as long as she wore a face mask. Human resources did not advise her to quarantine for 14 days, as CDC guidelines require.
The coronavirus lawsuit alleges that other Sadelle’s employees who worked with the food runner who tested positive were not informed of their co-worker’s positive test.
On June 24, a Sadelle’s cook learned he had tested positive for COVID-19, the lawsuit states. Again, Bellagio allegedly did not inform all Sadelle’s employees of their positive coworker or disclose his name so others could determine if they’d worked with him, instead waiting until June 25 to inform servers and food runners of the positive COVID-19 test.
The defendants have violated their collective bargaining agreement with the unions by adopting unreasonable rules and procedures affecting workers’ health and safety, the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs also claim the defendants are in violation of Nevada law that defines “nuisance” as “[a]nything which is injurious to health…so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.”
The Las Vegas lawsuit seeks injunctive relief in aid of arbitration, enjoining the defendants from following unreasonable rules and procedures until the arbitration is complete; for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief abating the alleged nuisances; costs and expenses associated with the lawsuit; attorneys’ fees; and any other award deemed proper by the Court.
Do you believe your employer has taken the proper steps to protect workers from COVID-19? Let us know in the comments below.
The plaintiffs are represented by Paul L. More, Sarah Varela and Kim Weber of McCracken Stemerman & Holsberry LLP.
The Las Vegas COVID-19 Lawsuit is Local Joint Executive Board of Las Vegas v. Harrah’s Las Vegas LLC, et al., Case No. Unknown, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.
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