The Las Vegas strip is reopening. But the workers who make it function say their employers are putting them at risk of illness or even death. The city’s formidable Culinary Union announced on Monday that it had filed a lawsuit against three major casino companies for failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. According to the union, Signature at the MGM Grand, Sadelle’s Cafe at Bellagio, and Guy Fieri Las Vegas at Harrah’s have all failed to inform workers when someone tests positive for COVID-19 and aren’t properly disinfecting facilities when a worker falls ill.
Flavortown, it seems, isn’t a paradise after all. Fieri, who’s best known as the hedgehog-haired host of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, has an extensive partnership agreement with Caesars Entertainment. Fieri develops the concepts and menus with Caesars, which is presumably a lucrative enterprise for the inventor of donkey sauce. But while Fieri makes bank off Las Vegas, workers are getting sick. After casinos began reopening on June 4, a worker at the Fieri restaurant tested positive for the virus, forcing it to close its doors again.
The Culinary, a local of UNITE HERE, represents around 60,000 people in the hospitality-and-food industries in Las Vegas. In an email to Intelligencer, the union said that 19 of its members or their dependents have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, a toll it blames partly on negligent casinos and public officials. For two months, the union asked casinos to implement mandatory mask policies. But until Governor Steve Sisolak issued an executive order requiring them in public places, casinos themselves had been slow to comply with the union’s demands.
The union had already filed grievances against the three casinos named in its lawsuit. Each violated collective bargaining agreements “by adopting rules and procedures affecting workers’ health and safety that are unreasonable and that endanger worker’s safety,” the union claims. Workers have said that contact tracing is uneven and inadequate when it’s even performed. At the Fieri restaurant in particular, workers said they weren’t informed when a person became ill, and were encouraged to keep working even if they were concerned for their health. When a worker with multiple sclerosis told a manager that she had an underlying condition and was afraid of contracting the virus, she was allegedly told she would “have to deal with it.” (Though Fieri’s restaurants bear his name, it’s not clear how involved the Mayor of Flavortown remains after they open. It is clear, however, that Caesars is besmirching his name.) The union is suing for injunctive relief under the Labor-Management Relations Act.
Meanwhile, the Strip remains open. But workers may have more to fear in weeks to come. As COVID cases spike in southern and southwestern states, the threat of infection is a present danger, and since the pandemic first hit the U.S., local officials have been slow to care. “We would love to be that placebo side so you have something to measure against,” the city’s mayor, Carolyn Goodman, said to CNN’s Anderson Cooper during an April appearance his show. Referring to workers as “a control group,” Goodman said it was up to casinos to enforce smart social distancing if the city reopened. Perhaps it shouldn’t be. With profits at stake, no worker is safe — even in Flavortown.