COVID-19 Settlement by Culinary Union, MGM Resorts Was Predictable, Legal Expert Says

Posted on: August 13, 2020, 01:25h. 

Last updated on: August 13, 2020, 02:47h.

The recent withdrawal of a coronavirus safety lawsuit by the Culinary Union against MGM Resorts International was standard procedure, according to a UNLV legal authority on the hospitality sector. But the union isn’t done yet.

Caesars Palace employee recalled
Adolfo Fernandez. a porter at Caesars Palace, who died this year after a COVID-19 test, was remembered in recent legislation and statements as more worker safety measures are enacted. (Image: Daily Mail)

“A resolution is not surprising,” Anthony Cabot, Distinguished Fellow in Gaming Law at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, told when he was asked about the settlement and related recent joint statements. “When two groups have a common goal, reasonable people will reach a consensus,” Cabot said.

The two sides entered a process of expedited arbitration on the dispute. The union and MGM Resorts also issued an announcement on the settlement this week, as the Nevada legislature recently approved the Adolfo Fernandez Bill, which calls for increased worker safety at casinos. It was signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) on Tuesday.

“Employee protection is a critical issue, not only for the workers concerned about their health and families, but for the casinos, whose business relies on the public’s trust that they maintain a safe environment,” Cabot explained.

In June, the Culinary Union filed lawsuits against The Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s. Each suit was initiated for union members who work in these casinos, and aimed to protect workers and their families from the spread of COVID-19.

Not Done Yet

In one case, Sixto Zermeno, a bellman at The Signature at MGM Grand, tested positive for COVID-19 on June 11. He tried to notify the company about the result but was not contacted for two days, the union said. One of his co-workers later tested positive, too.

The Signature did not immediately close work areas in which Sixto worked, did not immediately warn employees, and did not initiate immediate contact tracing, the lawsuit claimed. At least three Culinary Union members in The Signature front-service department tested positive for COVID-19, the suit adds.

Since March 1, at least 32 Culinary and Bartenders Union members or their family members died from COVID-19, with more than 300 hospitalized, the union statement said.

The lawsuit further claims the casinos did not adequately protect workers or their relatives from the spread of coronavirus. Safety procedures and protocols were “wholly and dangerously inadequate,” according to the union statement released in June.

The lawsuit against resorts is “just the beginning of the Culinary Union’s legal efforts to make sure workers are fully protected,” Geoconda Arguello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, said in the June statement.

In June, the union wanted to see the casinos immediately shut down work areas after learning of COVID-19 cases, to initiate adequate contact tracing to identify employees who worked with an employee who tested positive for COVID-19, and to immediately inform employees of positive tests among their co-workers.

Bill Takes Action

The recently approved Adolfo Fernandez Bill is first-in-the-nation legislation to protect all workers in the hospitality industry in Las Vegas and Reno, the union said. Adolfo Fernandez contracted COVID-19 after working as a utility porter at Caesars Palace. He died in June.

The bill calls for enhanced cleaning, social distancing, free testing, paid time off while workers are in quarantine or while waiting for COVID-19 test results, and temperature checks for workers.

Also, casinos will provide detailed plans of action for when a worker contracts COVID-19 or is exposed to someone with the virus, and casinos will provide safety training for all employees. There will also be regular inspections of resort hotels by health officials.

The bill also offers protections for casinos and other businesses from liabilities tied to coronavirus-related lawsuits. The American Gaming Association is ratcheting up efforts to get a similar bill passed on the federal level.