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Culinary Union files lawsuit against major Las Vegas Strip casino companies

Posted at 12:12 PM, Jun 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 18:22:37-04

Culinary Union has filed a lawsuit against The Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s on behalf of Culinary Union members who work in these casinos on the Las Vegas Strip in order to protect workers and their families from the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Culinary Union complaint for injunctive relief here.

Since March 1, 2020, 19 Culinary Union members and/or their dependents have died from COVID-19.

The Culinary Union is suing these casino companies for injunctive relief under the Labor-Management Relations Act regarding hazardous working conditions. The lawsuit alleges casino hotels have not protected workers, their families, and their community from the spread of COVID-19, and that the current rules and procedures for responding to workers contracting COVID-19 have been wholly and dangerously inadequate.

“This lawsuit alleges that The Signature at MGM Grand (MGM Resorts International), Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio (MGM Resorts International), and Guy Fieri at Harrah’s (Caesars Entertainment Corporation) is the just the beginning of the Culinary Union’s legal efforts to make sure workers are fully protected,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, Secretary-Treasurer for the Culinary Union. “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”

Since Las Vegas’s gaming industry reopened on June 4, 2020, The Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s have:

  • Adopted unreasonable rules and procedures for addressing the spread of COVID-19.
  • Have not immediately shut down work areas upon learning of positive COVID-19 cases.
  • Have failed to conduct adequate contact tracing to identify those who have worked with a co-worker who has tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Have failed to immediately inform their employees of positive tests among their co-workers, leaving workers who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 because of pre-existing conditions (or who live with family members who are particularly vulnerable) guessing as to what precautions they must take.
  • Have provided workers with flatly false information about how COVID-19 spreads and what its symptoms are, in an effort to keep workers on the job and revenues flowing.

The unreasonable rules and procedures that The Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s have adopted for addressing positive COVID-19 cases among their workers place the life and health of workers, their families, and their communities in grave danger.

The Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s failure to comply with necessary health and safety standards at their properties is reasonably certain to cause further spread of the COVID-19 virus among workers, their families, and those with whom they share residences. If injunctive relief abating these nuisances is not granted, Culinary Union members face an unacceptable risk of harm in the form of contracting COVID-19, with its long-term health consequences and potentially fatal nature.

The Culinary Union has already grieved violations of its collective bargaining agreements with The Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s. The lawsuit filed today maintains that companies have violated collective bargaining agreement provisions by adopting rules and procedures affecting workers’ health and safety that are unreasonable and that endanger worker’s safety.

SOME OF THE ALLEGATIONS CONTAINED IN THE LAWSUIT:

The Signature at MGM Grand allegations: The Signature’s procedures and rules for addressing positive COVID-19 cases are unreasonable and unsafe for Signature workers, their families and their communities. Workers have fear and anxiety heightened by The Signature’s failure to provide employees with prompt information about co-workers who test positive and the companies’ failure to follow reasonable contact-tracing and quarantine procedures.

Sixto Zermeno, a bellman at The Signature at MGM Grand was confirmed positive for COVID-19 on June 11th, 2020. He diligently tried to warn The Signature and its parent company MGM Resorts, but was not contacted for two days, even as co-workers with whom he had worked - including one who later tested positive for COVID-10, continued to work. Despite having evidence of a positive COVID-19 test result from a symptomatic bellman, The Signature did not immediately close down the work areas in which Sixto worked, such as the bell desk or the valet booth, so that they could receive special and complete disinfection. It did not immediately warn employees that one of their co-workers had tested positive. Nor did The Signature immediately initiate contact tracing to determine which of Sixto’s co-workers needed to be quarantined. At least three Culinary Union members in The Signature front-service department have tested positive for COVID-19.

“I am recovering from COVID-19, but getting this disease has been extremely difficult for me and my family,” said Sixto Zermeno, a bellman at The Signature at MGM Grand. “I have not been able to see my nine-year-old daughter in person since I tested positive - I haven’t been able to hug my daughter or see her for 3-weeks now. Both of my parents are elderly and they have pre-existing conditions - diabetes and high blood pressure. I am very afraid that I will spread the disease to them, so I am staying in my room and away from them. I am wearing a face mask at home and hoping that they do not catch it. I’m fighting to makes sure the company follows the proper steps to protect workers. It’s wrong that the they didn’t prepare for handling this. The Signature at MGM Grand had 3 months to prepare and they didn’t. None of our upper management had a clue what to do and that’s unfortunate. They put a lot of us and our families at risk.”

Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s allegations: Even though Harrah’s was aware that the food runner had tested positive for COVID-19, Harrah’s did not immediately announce this fact to all Guy Fieri workers so that they could take precautions. When Guy Fieri workers reported their concern about having worked with a COVID-19-positive co-worker, a security manager tried to pressure them to continue working, saying that they “looked alright to work” to him.

Jessica Bremer, a speciality cook at Guy Fieri has an underlying condition that makes her particularly vulnerable if she contracted COVID-19. Jessica asked her manager whether it was true that the food runner in question had tested positive for COVID-19. The manager confirmed to Jessica that it was true. Jessica reminded her manager that she has an underlying condition. The manager responded that Jessica would “have to deal with it.” Jessica and other Guy Fieri workers also received confirmation from their managers that the food runner had tested positive, but they were not told that they should stop working and quarantine if they were potentially exposed.

“I have “watch and wait” multiple sclerosis (MS),” said Jessica Bremer, a specialty cook at Guy Fieri. “I cannot work around people with COVID-19. I am at high risk. Because I have MS, I am extremely worried about contracting COVID-19, and I do not want to transmit it to my family.”

Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio allegations: As a result of Bellagio’s irresponsible decision to permit guests to remain unmasked on the property it operates, Bellagio bartenders, cocktail servers, food servers, hosts, cashiers, bell persons, guest room attendants, door persons, valet, and employees working in other classifications regularly came into close contact with guests who did not wear masks.

A food runner at Sadelle’s Cafe informed Bellagio that he had tested positive for COVID-19. There is not enough space for workers to social distance from each other in their workplace. Even after two positive COVID-19 cases, the company did not immediately close down Sadelle’s Cafe or work areas were the employees who had tested positive had worked less than seven days earlier.

Jamie Young, a gourmet food server at Sadelle’s Cafe was in close proximity with a coworker who had COVID-19. Jamie’s manager made no effort to determine whether Jamie was in close contact with a food runner who had tested positive, and the manager did not advise Jamie that she should quarantine for 14 days per CDC guidelines. Bellagio Human Resources representative told Jamie that she would be safe to return for her shift on Sunday as long as she wore a face mask and did also not advise Jamie that she should quarantine for 14 days.

“I am scared to keep working at Sadelle’s because I do not want to bring coronavirus back to my 7-year-old daughter or my 79-year-old parents who watch her while I am at work,” said Jamie Young, a gourmet food server at Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio. “After the outbreak at Bellagio I sanitized my entire house. I cleaned the carpets and washed absolutely every surface. I wouldn’t let my daughter hug me until I got a negative test result. I’m fighting for the company to follow the right protocols. They should be do everything they can for us to be safe.”

The Culinary Union is demanding safety for all hospitality and gaming workers in Nevada and is tracking what casino employers are doing to prevent COVID-19 in the following areas on CulinaryClean.org:

  1. Requiring daily cleaning of guest rooms
  2. Mandatory testing of all employees for COVID-19 before returning to work and regular testing thereafter
  3. Providing adequate COVID-19 PPE for employees
  4. Enforcing social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention measures
  5. Requiring guests to wear face masks in all public areas - The Culinary Union has been calling for all customers to wear masks in public spaces since early May. A mandatory mask policy is a good step towards protecting workers and the hospitality industry in Nevada, but much more has to be done.
  6. Posting a COVID-19 safety plan on public-facing website - After months of advocating for increased transparency, the Culinary Union is pleased that most major gaming companies have posted their COVID-19 safety plans on their public-facing websites.