By SAM METZ AP / Report for America
CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Laid-off casino and hotel workers picketed at the Nevada statehouse on Tuesday to demand state lawmakers pass a bill to require their former employers bring them back at pre-pandemic wages rather than hire new workers.
Thousands of workers in the tourism and hospitality industry were laid off in the early months of the pandemic, when Nevada’s unemployment rate rose to a record 29.5% in April. Now, as tourists return and the Las Vegas economy rebounds to pre-pandemic levels, hospitality and tourism industry workers are back in demand.
Culinary Union Local 226 and other unions that have negotiated wages and benefits for their workers want resorts and casinos to re-hire their members who had worked for at least six months before being laid off under the terms of their old contracts, rather than bring in new workers who can be paid less.
Matthew Seevers, who worked as a bartender at Stations Casino for 15 years before being laid off last spring, said workers who dedicated years to their workplaces deserve to be hired back when businesses need more workers because the circumstances of the pandemic were not their fault.
“The economy has grown again. Why should we not have our jobs back when these places open up?” he said. “We put our time in and we were a family. Now they don’t care. They just throw us away to the curb.”
A proposal to mandate workers be given the “right to return” and receive priority in the re-hiring process has pitted the powerful labor union against chambers of commerce, casinos and the Nevada Resort Association. Opponents argue that a “Right to Return” law could bring about unnecessary litigation and make it more difficult to return Nevada’s economy to pre-pandemic levels.
“This is right for everybody. It’s right for corporations and it’s right for the workers.”
“The bill would further damage Nevada’s recovery efforts by placing an arduous burden on employers through needless, time-consuming and counter-productive requirements that will significantly slow down rehiring and further delay bringing more Nevadans back to work,” Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine told the Nevada Current in April.
Phil Jaynes, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 720, told demonstrators Tuesday that union members who had worked in showrooms, theaters and lounges on the Las Vegas Strip before being laid off had years of institutional knowledge and made Las Vegas a premier destination.
“It makes no sense why they wouldn’t call these people back,” he said. “This is right for everybody. It’s right for corporations and it’s right for the workers.”
Barry Lieberman, an attorney for South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, testified in April that it was unfair to mandate the re-hiring of former workers and discriminate against prospective workers who didn’t work at casinos before the pandemic.
“There are many qualified Nevadans who are unemployed and trying to support their families. (The bill) will have the effect of discouraging the hiring of anyone who was not previously employed by the South Point and is a disservice to those people seeking employment to support their families,” he wrote to the committee.
The proposal has won backing from powerful Democrats in the statehouse, including Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, who presented it during an April committee hearing and told demonstrators on Tuesday that there were ongoing discussions about the bill and she intended to ensure it moved forward.
It has not been put up for a vote in the state Senate, Assembly or any legislative subcommittees.
Sam Metz is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.