Unions Slam Las Vegas Resorts Over Handling Of COVID-19

By Danielle Nichole Smith
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Law360 (June 29, 2020, 8:30 PM EDT) -- The Culinary Workers Union, Local 226 and Bartenders Union, Local 165 hit the Bellagio, Signature and Harrah's with a lawsuit in Nevada federal court Monday, claiming the resorts adopted "unreasonable rules and procedures" surrounding COVID-19 that didn't protect workers or their families.

In their complaint, the unions said the rules and procedures for dealing with workers who contracted the disease in particular were "wholly and dangerously inadequate." The unions' suit against Harrah's Las Vegas LLC, the Signature Condominiums LLC and Bellagio LLC seeks injunctive relief under the Labor Management Relations Act.

"We feel right now they've really been putting the workers at risk, and not only the workers, their families too," Geoconda Argüello-Kline, the secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union said at a press conference on Monday.

At least 19 of the unions' members and their dependents have died from COVID-19 since March, according to the complaint.

The suit said the companies only encouraged guests to wear face masks in public areas instead of requiring them to do so before a mandate from the governor, despite the "overwhelming evidence of the importance of mandating facial coverings by guests in public areas of casinos and hotels." Workers, however, were required to wear masks, according to the suit.

Further, the unions said, the employers failed to adequately respond to and inform workers about their colleagues' positive COVID-19 tests at all three venues.

For instance, at the Signature, no one told Jose Chavez that he had been in close contact with an employee who tested positive, even though that worker, Sixto Zermeno, informed higher-ups of his positive test result and told them he had close contact with Chavez, the complaint alleged. Chavez later tested positive for COVID-19, according to the suit.

"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," Argüello-Kline said in a press release Monday. 

MGM Resorts International, which owns the Signature and Bellagio, said in a statement Monday that the company has "spent months working with health experts to create a comprehensive health and safety plan."

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of everyone inside of our properties," the statement said.

According to the statement, MGM has "offered free testing to all employees before they report to work and require it if they exhibit symptoms or have been exposed to someone who has tested positive" and "made available tests in other circumstances that do not dictate that a test is required."

MGM also said that it has worked to train its managers in its incident response protocols and works "very closely with the health department officials in their efforts to contact trace."

"The nation is in the midst of a public health crisis and we are relying on all of our employees to follow CDC guidance both at work and at home," the statement said.

A spokesperson for Caesar's Entertainment, the parent organization of Harrah's Las Vegas LLC, said the company doesn't comment on pending litigation. 

The Local Joint Executive Board of Las Vegas, a joint bargaining agency for the two unions, is represented by Paul L. More, Sarah Varela and Kim Weber of McCracken Stemerman & Holsberry LLP.

Counsel information for the defendants was not yet available Monday.

The case is Local Joint Executive Board of Las Vegas v. Harrah's Las Vegas LLC, The Signature Condominiums LLC, Bellagio LLC, case number not yet available, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Nevada.

--Editing by Haylee Pearl.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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