Culinary leader rips casino industry for not stepping up during pandemic By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports April 12, 2020 at 3:00 pm The head of the nation’s largest service employees union on Thursday blasted MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment for not “stepping up” and doing more to help thousands of the companies’ hotel-casino workers put off the job during the novel coronavirus pandemic. “In every community, the casino industry has come to, they have always proclaimed a few things,” said D. Taylor, President of the 300,000-member UNITED HERE labor organization. “One, they would bring good jobs to the area. Two, they were dedicated to the community. And three, they would obviously be a source for taxpayers’ income for the state or local coffers. That’s really been their pitch. And we’ve been through many a crisis with the casino industry. Whether we had the effects of 9/11, we had Katrina hurricane down on the Gulf Coast; we had Hurricane Sandy in Atlantic City. And in all those cases, the casino industry stepped up.” Taylor was joined on the Zoom conference by Culinary Local 226 Secretary-Treasurer Gioconda Arguello-Kline and labor leaders from Atlantic City and the Gulf Coast in calling for the gaming giants to pay employees during the government-ordered shutdown of the casino industry. After noting that casino corporations rose to the occasion in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he called out MGM and Caesars for not doing more. He also lauded the decision by Wynn Resorts to pay its employees until the pandemic ends. And he jabbed at nonunion operators whose workers he said were sent home without separation pay. Two non-Culinary companies, Las Vegas Sands and Station Casinos, have committed to pay their employees through May. 15. “And the industry, obvious, is a very profitable industry overall,” Taylor said. “So the question is, why haven’t they overall stepped up? We think without a doubt, the gaming industry, those casinos, commercial casinos, should actually pay for people during this shutdown.” UNITE HERE leader D. Taylor makes a point with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren./Photo by Howard Stutz Then he landed a more stinging blow. “It’s not a secret about the wealth of these companies,” Taylor said. “MGM, for example, has almost $4 billion in cash on hand. Caesars has over $2 billion. And Caesars and Eldorado, as you know, are planning a merger of $17 billion.” Caesars, which chose not to respond to the union’s criticism, gave furloughed employees two weeks’ pay, including an average of the tip income they would have received as well as full access to their accrued time off. The company also is paying the cost of employee medical benefits through June 30. MGM responded in a statement. It reads in part: “We believe that the travel and the hospitality industry specifically will likely change for the foreseeable future and the decisions we are making are to ensure that we have the resources to not just reopen, but also to operate successfully because the most impactful thing we can do for our employees in the long term is to bring them back to work.” The company created an Emergency Grant Fund, which currently contains more than $11 million in donations, much of it coming from high-profile entertainers, to be used by employees to offset emergency rent and mortgage payments and to pay for grocery and utility bills. It has opened a job board to help furloughed workers find temporary employment and is anticipating further relief from the federal CARES ACT. The problem with the industry’s inconsistent response to the pandemic crisis figures to become more problematic in the coming months as many idled employees become more desperate. In Nevada alone last week, the U.S. Department of Labor reported 80,000 new jobless claims, and the state’s unemployment office has been swamped with contacts, so much so that Gov. Steve Sisolak has agreed to contract with and outside service. Those numbers promise to remain high the rest of the year and beyond even if the best-case scenarios about the spread of the novel coronavirus prove accurate. And even those casino executives who long to reopen their resorts realize the return to business-as-usual will be a long time coming. Gaming companies spend millions to train and keep union and nonunion workers, who are the ones who are the ones responsible for making the mega-resort casino engines hum. Some corporations are much better positioned than others to step up for their hurting workers, but it makes no sense to skimp on the investment it has in its employees in a time of crisis. Can they do more? If not now, when? John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.