Culinary lawsuit spells bad news for gaming companies trying to put on a happy face By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports July 1, 2020 at 10:48 pm You could see it coming for weeks. Like an approaching storm, representatives of UNITE-HERE and its behemoth Las Vegas Local 226 have voiced their concerns about service worker health and safety almost from the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, as many organized labor watchers have predicted for weeks, the union made good on its threat to take action if its demands for increased safety didn’t achieve the expected results. It filed a lawsuit claiming major Strip corporate casino players have failed to make good on their promise to put safety first. Setting aside whatever material facts the lawsuit contains, the litigation itself comes at a very sensitive time for a gaming industry that is trying to operate in a new era. Las Vegas is blowing up with new coronavirus cases. Now that Gov. Steve Sisolak has mandated wearing masks in public, the endless challenge will be enforcing the common-sense, life-saving rule with throngs of visitors who want to cut loose and live a little after months of lockdown. The gaming industry has done a credible job preparing public spaces for visitors. Plexiglas and PPE have become so much a part of the casino visit that they are no longer making the news. But you don’t have to look far to find photos of big crowds both in the casino and at poolside not practicing anything resembling social distancing. And the lack of mask wearing has been impossible to miss. It’s up to the industry to embrace a national face, if you will, when it comes to mask wearing. Here is where gaming’s great promoters can do much better. In an industry with some of the most flamboyant marketing around, somehow they’ve done a mediocre job in an area where the industry’s marketing gurus traditionally have excelled: They’ve failed to make wearing a mask Vegas sexy. Sex sells everything in Las Vegas, from all-you-can-eat buffets to video poker machines. Don’t tell me that models wearing masks can’t be turned into an alluring commercial for safe frivolity. Changing attitudes is made immensely more difficult at a time like this, when we have a presidential administration that refuses to lead on this critical issue, but the industry’s creative thinkers can do much to show the way in this area. That won’t stop the Culinary’s lawsuit and its increasingly vocal criticism from continuing. The union has a real challenge in balancing putting its people back on the job while ensuring workplace health and safety. The lawsuit singles out the Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Café at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s, alleging the operators “adopted unreasonable rules and procedures for addressing the spread of COVID-19.” The businesses failed to shut down work areas after learning of positive COVID-19 cases, failed to conduct adequate contact tracing, failed to immediately inform employees of positive test findings, and provided workers with false information. At a teleconference this week, Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Arguello-Kline said the lawsuit seeking injunctive relief was just the beginning of the union’s effort to protect its workers. “The Culinary Union will continue to collect worker statements and evidence regarding unsafe working conditions throughout the Las Vegas Strip and in downtown Las Vegas, and we will support the courageous workers who have come forward to share their experiences,” she said. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking from someone hoping for the day when the coronavirus cloud finally lifts, but it may be a good sign that more damning stories from workers haven’t already surfaced. The trouble with trying too hard to write a happy ending on this tragic story is simple: With each passing day since the June 4 reopening, the number of coronavirus cases in Las Vegas and Nevada continues to climb. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.