Nevada Gov. Sisolak Delays Special Session as Culinary Union Pushes for Worker Protections

Posted on: July 19, 2020, 06:37h. 

Last updated on: July 20, 2020, 01:17h.

The union that represents thousands of Nevada casino workers said on Friday that its members and their families are getting hit hard by the COVID-19 flare-up in the state. It wants state officials and industry executives to take measures to protect them.

Nevada Gov. Delays Session As Culinary Union Pushes
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) exits a June 24 news conference at the Nevada State Legislature in Carson City, Nev. On Sunday, the governor announced he would delay calling a special session that would, among other things, take up worker safety legislation that a Nevada casino union has pushed. (Image: Samuel Metz/AP)

The Culinary Union said in a release that since March 22, 19 of its workers or their family members have succumbed to COVID-19. Since Gov. Steve Sisolak allowed casinos to reopen on June 4, the number of union members or their spouses and dependents hospitalized with the virus has gone from five to 43, as of July 16.

Sara Kalaoram’s mom works as a guest room attendant at The Cosmopolitan. In a statement from The Culinary Union, she said her mom has been in a hospital for nearly a week and cannot breathe on her own.

She was exposed to someone who had COVID-19 at work,” Kalaoram said. “Now, my dad, my younger teenage brother, and I are all positive for COVID-19, and we are really worried.”

I’ve watched my mom’s health get worse every day since early July when she got the positive test, and it’s hard for my family because we can’t even visit my mom in the hospital right now,” she continued.

In all, more than 350 union members or their spouses and dependents have been hospitalized because of the virus.

Second Special Session on Hold

Earlier this month, union officials called on Sisolak to include the Adolfo Fernandez Bill as part of a special session. The legislation — named in honor of a Vegas casino worker who died from COVID-19 — would require casinos to enhance their cleaning procedures, enforce social distancing guidelines, test workers for the virus, and develop action plans for workers who contract the virus or have been exposed to someone with it.

Sisolak ordered the legislature into a special session on July 8, but that was just to deal with a $1.2 billion shortfall. That session was likely to conclude Sunday evening, as lawmakers finalized an agreement on making the ends meet.

Initially, the plan was for Sisolak to call lawmakers immediately back for a second session that would take up such issues as worker safety. However, on Sunday afternoon, the governor announced a change of plans.

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising in the state, Sisolak said in a statement that he didn’t want lawmakers to gather for 12 days or more. While the delay will give his administration time to deal with the spike in cases, he also would like for legislative leaders to hash out issues like worker safety, the state unemployment program, and election reforms with his office during that time as well.

“My goal is still to issue a proclamation for a second special session,” Sisolak said. “But I will only do so when I am confident the legislature, in coordination with my office, has fully reviewed all policy items and is ready to conduct a thorough, organized, and efficient second session.”

Union Lawsuit May Get Split

Late last month, the union, on behalf of its members who work at Las Vegas Strip casinos, filed a lawsuit against a Caesars Entertainment casino and two MGM Resorts International properties, claiming they did not protect union employees from a hazardous work environment.

Now it appears the federal lawsuit may get split in two. On July 1, MGM filed a motion to either dismiss it from the suit or sever the cases and claimed that the union did not meet the legal standard for joining the defendants since the case needs to relate to the same transaction or series of actions.

“There is no more commonality here than three people who each are involved in separate automobile accidents on different dates, yet happen to drive the same make and model of car,” the MGM motion stated.

Last week, the union filed a response, saying it had no issues with severing the cases, but objected to the motion to dismiss, saying it will work “zealously” to protect members.

MGM and the Culinary Union do have an arbitration session with MGM that’s slated to start Tuesday, and that may address the issues the union listed in its suit.