Station Casinos sued over pandemic jobs right-to-return

FILE - In this May 21, 2020, file photo, a worker works on an electronic slot machine as chairs...
FILE - In this May 21, 2020, file photo, a worker works on an electronic slot machine as chairs have been removed from some machines to maintain social distancing between players at a closed Caesars Palace hotel and casino in Las Vegas. Culinary Union, a powerful casino workers’ union representing more than 300,000 Nevada hotel housekeepers, bartenders and porters is going to court, Tuesday, March 29, 2022, to claim one of the largest casino companies in the state has failed to rehire workers who were laid off due to coronavirus pandemic closures two years ago. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)(John Locher | AP)
Published: Mar. 30, 2022 at 6:00 AM PDT
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(AP) - A union representing more than 60,000 hotel housekeepers, bartenders and porters is backing a lawsuit alleging that one of Nevada’s largest private employers is breaking state law by not rehiring workers laid off because of coronavirus pandemic closures two years ago.

Culinary Union officials said Tuesday the civil lawsuit filed in state court by 76 non-union hospitality workers alleges “flagrant violation” by Station Casinos of a state “right to return” law the politically powerful union backed and the Legislature adopted last year.

“They demand the right to be rehired, and reinstatement into job positions in which they are qualified,” Ted Pappageorge, union secretary-treasurer, told reporters and a room full of supporters and plaintiffs in the case at a Culinary Union hall in Las Vegas.

“They cannot decide to toss you out like an old shoe, or trash to kick to the curb,” the union leader said.

“We’re human beings that have not been treated fairly,” said Barbara Tivas, a banquet server for almost 13 years at Green Valley Ranch in Henderson who said she has not been rehired. She was one of five plaintiffs who spoke during the rally.

Pappageorge characterized Station Casinos as Nevada’s third-largest private employer.

Station Casinos officials declined to say how many people the company employs.

The union has for years waged a vocal and sometimes acrimonious battle to unionize employees of the subsidiary of publicly traded Red Rock Resorts Inc.

Station Casinos operates nine large casino-hotels and 10 bar, restaurant and sports betting properties in and around Las Vegas.

Union picketing and marches are common, and union leaders accuse the company of improperly using its position as an employer to influence votes.

That claim gained backing from the National Labor Relations Board in 2020 and a federal appeals court panel last November, after union leaders accused Red Rock of undercutting a December 2019 union election by enhancing health benefits and retirement accounts just days before the vote.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Las Vegas also ordered the company not to threaten, discipline or interfere with employees because of their membership or support for the union.

In a sharply worded statement, the company on Tuesday derided the new lawsuit as “the latest in a series of empty publicity stunts” intended to “harass and bully” the company.

“All of this noise is designed to distract from the fact that the Culinary Union failed its members,” the company statement said, pointing to union reports that 98% of union members were laid off when casinos closed statewide in mid-March 2020.

The union said 80% of those people have been rehired since casinos statewide began reopening in early June 2020, but thousands were left looking for new jobs.

Pappageorge alleged Tuesday that Station Casinos held job fairs to attract new employees just days before Nevada’s right-to-return law went into effect last July 1. Protections under the law will expire this August 31.

California is another state with right-to-return rules, and Culinary Union researchers identified similar policies in cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Providence, Rhode Island.

Paul Sonn, state policy program director at the National Employment Law Project in New York, said the measures “help protect older workers, Black and Latinx workers, and workers who speak up at work, by ensuring that employers don’t use post-pandemic rehiring as a way to get rid of them.”

“Especially in Las Vegas where the trend is to hire an ever younger, attractive staff, these safeguards are especially important,” Sonn said in a statement to The Associated Press.

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