MGM Units, Vegas Unions Agree To Arbitrate COVID-19 Fight

By Craig Clough
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Law360 (July 20, 2020, 10:55 PM EDT) -- Las Vegas casino unions are dropping claims against two subsidiaries of MGM Resorts International in their suit alleging the resorts' "unreasonable" COVID-19 rules don't protect employees, telling a Nevada federal judge Monday that the resorts have agreed to expedited arbitration of their grievances.

The unions have not dropped claims against a third defendant, Harrah's Las Vegas LLC, but said the action against the MGM defendants is no longer moving forward.

The Local Joint Executive Board of Las Vegas, which is a joint bargaining unit for the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, said it is "dismissing this action against defendants Signature and Bellagio because defendants Signature and Bellagio have agreed to an expedited arbitration of the grievances that form the basis for the injunctive relief sought in the First Cause of Action, under 29 U.S.C. 185, thus rendering the need for such relief moot, and because the second cause of action arises under state law."

The June 29 complaint, which seeks injunctive relief under the Labor Management Relations Act, claims that the casinos and resorts' rules and procedures for dealing with workers who contracted the disease are "wholly and dangerously inadequate."

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 rather than requiring them to do so before a mandate from the governor, despite "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. The claims against Harrah's focus on the restaurant Guy Fieri Las Vegas. 

"An expedited arbitration with MGM Resorts is scheduled this week. This arbitration is a first step and the Culinary Union will continue to negotiate aggressively and take any other steps necessary to ensure workers and their families are protected from the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace," said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, in a statement. "The lawsuit against Caesars Entertainments' Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah's remains on-going."

Earlier this month, the Bellagio and Signature filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing workers' representatives have never during regular negotiations proposed safety standards addressing the pandemic and that the resorts only learned about the culinary workers and a bartenders unions' safety concerns in a June 29 press release published the same day a union bargaining agency filed the complaint.

The resorts said their decadelong collective bargaining relationships with the plaintiff had typically involved daily communications as the joint bargaining agency represents the interests of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165.

Those daily communications have continued through the coronavirus crisis, but during that time the unions never proposed that Bellagio or Signature adopt specific health and safety standards during their regular discussions, the resorts said.

In the motion to dismiss, the resorts also faulted the unions for not contacting them even after the lawsuit was filed. The unions immediately agreed to arbitrate their grievances after the resorts initiated talks on June 30, July 2 and July 3, but did not otherwise respond, the resorts added.

"The Culinary Union filed a frivolous lawsuit asserting that we did not have adequate health and safety protocols," MGM Resorts said in a statement. "They have now made a motion to dismiss their lawsuit after we challenged them in court. We hope that the Culinary Union will work collaboratively with us in the future when it comes to health and safety issues."

The Local Joint Executive Board of Las Vegas is represented by Paul L. More, Sarah Varela and Kim Weber of McCracken Stemerman & Holsberry LLP.

Bellagio and Signature are represented by Paul T. Trimmer, Joshua A. Sliker and Lynne McChrystal of Jackson Lewis PC.

Counsel information for Harrah's was not yet available Monday. 

The case is Local Joint Executive Board of Las Vegas v. Harrah's Las Vegas LLC et al., case number 2:20-cv-01221, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada.

--Additional reporting by Joyce Hanson and Danielle Nichole Smith. Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

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