US casino staff seek reassurances before returning to work


casino-staff-pandemic-reassurancesUS casino operators may be chomping at the bit to restart operations following their pandemic shutdowns but casino staff want some reassurances before they return to work.

On Tuesday, Unite Here and the Culinary Workers Union, which represent casino employees across the country, issued guidelines they want to see instituted at all gaming venues before staff are asked to resume their former roles at the currently shuttered venues.

The guidelines include ensuring adequate supplies of personal protective equipment, contact tracing of suspected carriers, employer-paid COVID-19 testing of all staff before resuming work, immunity from retaliation if an employee refuses to work in a situation he/she deems unsafe, and a host of other concerns.

Many of the guidelines involving social distancing measures, equipment cleaning and temperature checks have already been suggested by some major casino operators, but the unions’ guidelines go far beyond that, raising the awkward question of who is going to pay for all these time- and resource-heavy responsibilities.

Recognizing the financial pressure that the companies are under, the unions want to ensure that gaming regulators, not the companies, have the final say on what precautions make the final cut.

In New Jersey, state legislators debuted bills on Monday intended to offer Atlantic City casino operators some fiscal relief by allowing them to defer payment of certain taxes and fees, while also offering interest-free loans to ensure the casinos can make their scheduled payments in lieu of property taxes.

While some legislators are warning that the process of offering casinos fiscal relief is happening too quickly for oversight, no one doubts the urgency of the situation. MGM Resorts, which operates Atlantic City’s market-leading Borgata casino, sent a letter to its furloughed employees on Tuesday that spells out a grim future if the status quo endures much longer.

MGM’s acting CEO Bill Hornbuckle told staff that when they were furloughed, the company hoped that “a significant portion of our operations would bounce back by the summer. However, that outlook has continued to evolve … we now believe that some of our colleagues may not return to work this year. And … we simply don’t know how many employees will return to work within the coming months.”

MGM did say it would extend employees’ health insurance through August 31, rather than the original June 30 end date. But employees’ status after that date appears tenuous at best, barring some dramatic change in the current situation.

Hornbuckle said he recognized that some staff might choose to look for more immediate prospects outside the company and he encouraged staff to “do whatever is best for you and your families during this challenging time.”