COVID-19 forced thousands of hospitality employees out of work and many are still waiting to see if - or when - they will return.
A coalition of labor unions across the valley held a rally Tuesday at the Clark County Government Center to fight for a 'Right to Return' ordinance.
The unions want the Clark County Commission to pass an ordinance requiring employers to offer jobs to all workers - both union and non-union - who have been laid off or furloughed because of the pandemic when their business resumes or reopens
More than a hundred labor union members and representatives gathered at the rally.
Matthew Seevers is one of many union workers whose casino has not reopened yet, but he’s rallying to make sure his job is there when it does. He’s a native Nevadan, and he’s been a bartender at Fiesta Henderson for the past 15 years.
“We were furloughed since [March] and they sent us a letter May 1 telling us that we’re laid off,” he said, “So we’re not going to be open up – right now – at this moment, until business picks back up for the other casinos.”
Seevers explained that the Right to Return ordinance would make businesses rehire people who were originally working at a business before it closed down or reduced its workforce due to the pandemic.
“All of us would get our jobs back when Fiesta would open back up or any job that opens back. A business that was closed or their business picked back up and they need to rehire. Instead of hiring brand new people, they would hire us back at our spots.”
Seevers said the workers who have been furloughed or laid off have done nothing wrong and were following Gov. Steve Sisolak’s orders by shutting down and staying home.
“Eventually, they are going to open up, but they shouldn’t be making a profit off of the workforce,” he said, “We’re family. We put our time in. People have been there longer than I have. I’ve been there 15 years. People have been there 20, 25 years, and they lost everything by them not opening back up any time soon.”
Unlike Seevers, whose casino hasn’t reopened, where Aldine Mills-McEwan works is open but her job is not. She’s a housekeeper for Treasure Island. She wants to be there when more people come back to Las Vegas. Originally, she was told she was laid off and then she got a letter saying she might get fired.
“It was heartbreaking. It was heart-wrenching. We have good days. We have bad days. It’s the norm. I have good friends there. We’re like family. On a regular day, we go in to work. We work as hard as we can. We give all. We go above and beyond for the company,” she said.
Mills-McEwan said workers are going to have to sit back and decide what to do now.
“We just need the company to step in and be there for us because we have been there for them,” she said, “The pandemic is here. We know that the hotel is not at 100 percent. As soon as it becomes to 100 percent, then we should go back to work. We should be the first ones to be called back to work.”
She said the workers who were at the properties originally should have the assurance that they’ll be put back on the payroll first.
Norma Flores has worked at Fiesta Henderson for 20 years. She said workers like herself and others deserve the right to return to work.
“That’s 20 years working for Station Casinos,” she said, “I don’t think it’s right what they’re doing. They used the pandemic because they want to terminate the people. That’s not right. Unemployment is not enough. We have to go collect food from some places. It’s hard.”
Flores said if workers can’t return to their jobs they’ll probably end up homeless.
Alba Acosta is a banquet server with Red Rock Resort and Casino. She’s been with the company for the past 14 years. The hotel-casino is open but there is still no work for banquets or other large events.
“It’s a scary time,” she said, “They let go the majority of our department, maybe kept 10 percent. It’s been tough. It’s a little uncertain.”
She said when she received the notice that she was permanently laid off she was heartbroken. Acosta said she didn’t think the casino would do that to the banquet servers because they were never guaranteed 40 hours of work to begin with.
“It was my home for 14 years,” she said, “It took me ten years to move up to the level of seniority that I had before we were laid off. It’s hard to even think that I would have to reapply for the position and compete with someone else for a position that I already had. It’s scary.”
Acosta believes tourism and the convention business will come back to Las Vegas, which means all of the workers that service those industries will need to come back as well.
“It would be great to know that they would be loyal back to us as we were loyal to them and just give us our positions back,” she said.
Alba had one last message for the commission:
“Please support all the Las Vegas workers. We’re all hospitality workers. The majority of us here and everyone here has worked for many years for any company. We kind of stick to what we know and adding the right to return to work will give us all jobs to go to and security for our homes, insurance. It is super important to our community. It really is.”
Geoconda Argüello-Kline is the secretary-treasurer with the Culinary Union. She told KNPR's State of Nevada that the coalition of unions has an agreement with some properties for a right of return, but they want more of a long term solution.
"We don't know how long this pandemic is going to be," she said, "That's why we have asked [the commission] to put it on the agenda and give an ordinance to say all the workers that are affected."
Rusty McAllister is the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO in Nevada. He said the push to get people their jobs back doesn't just impact workers in the service industry but also people that have jobs tied to hospitality.
"All the shows have shut down. All those workers are now waiting to go back to work," he said, "The Teamsters Unions. They set up all the conventions at all these different facilities. So, with no conventions in town, there is just a tremendous amount of workers that are out of work right now."
He said the coalition of labor unions is concerned that companies will decide to fire workers with more experience and higher pay and replace them with workers with less experience, and therefore, lower pay and benefits.
McAllister said similar ordinances have been passed in Los Angeles and San Diego.
"They were just doing what they were asked to do," he said, "The governor asked to shut down and social distance and wear masks and everybody has been doing what they were asked to do, and now, they would just like some assurances from people that they're not going to be, essentially, punished for what they did."
McAllister pointed out that some unions had secured a right to recall deal with workers through September but now it's October and those employers have not talked to the unions about extending the deal.
That is what concerns him on a broader scale.
The commission did not put the Right to Return ordinance on the agenda during Tuesday's meeting, but Commissioner Tick Segerblom expressed his support for the ordinance.
Labor unions in Nevada hold a lot of political sway. McAllister said the coalition of unions is not threatening any commissioner, but it is trying to get to word out about the issue by canvasing valley neighborhoods.
Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer, Culinary Workers Union Local 226; Rusty McAllister, Secretary-Treasurer, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations