Vegas News

Nevada probing 6 ‘return to work’ complaints

Yasmina Chavez

Ronal Portillo poses for a photo with his wife Marisela Duran-Cerro and their 2-year old daughter Arlette outside their home Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Portillo, who was laid off in March 2020 from his buffet cook position at Fiesta Rancho casino, has since struggled to find work and make ends meet. YASMINA CHAVEZ

Ricardo Arellano was ready to return to his job as a casino stock clerk when properties started reopening in June 2020 after pandemic closures.

It took more than a year and some help from a Nevada Senate bill to last month bring Arellano back to the Gold Coast.

The Nevada Hospitality and Travel Workers Right to Return Act, or Senate Bill 386, calls for casinos and other large hospitality companies to rehire the workers they laid off during the pandemic before picking from a pool of new candidates. It was signed into law by Gov. Steve Sisolak in June.

Workers who do not get their jobs back can file complaints with the Office of the Labor Commissioner, which will investigate the claim. If it finds enough evidence that a company violated the law, it can penalize the company and require it to rehire the worker.

Fourteen people have filed complaints with the labor commissioner wanting to return to jobs lost during the pandemic, when casinos shuttered for nearly 90 days and the region’s unemployment rate was the nation’s highest at nearly 30%. Of those complaints, six are being investigated, said Teri Williams, public information officer for the state’s Office of the Labor Commissioner.

Eight of those complaints were closed because the worker either did not fall under the scope of the law, or because they did not complete the requirement to first provide the employer with a written notice before filing the complaint, Williams said in an email.

Nevada lawmakers hoped the law would “speed the transition back to a functioning labor market and will lessen the damage to the state’s economy,” according to the bill.

Arellano filed a complaint Aug. 25, citing the return act and asking for his old job back. But the casino did not have a similar position available with the same hours he was working before, so the office closed the complaint, Arellano said.

About a week ago, the property rehired Arellano for an on-call position with fewer hours. It is paying him his original rate before he was laid off, and Arellano thinks that is in part due having filed the complaint.

“(The Right to Return Act) actually worked,” Arellano said. “Now that I went back, I feel like it helped me to go back to work because they gave me the same rate.”

Jose Acebal, who had been working at the Gold Coast since 1990, also filed a complaint Aug. 24 after he was not rehired to his previous position as a warehouse receiver. The casino responded that his former position was not available, but that Acebal would be notified as soon as the position came back, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Sun. Instead, Acebal said he opted to retire.

It is too early to tell the impact the bill has had on employment levels in Las Vegas, said David Schmidt, chief economist with the state’s employment department.

The only data available is from July and August, and those trends have continued largely as they did in April, May and June, Schmidt said.

“We’re still down significantly in total employment, in the casino industry in particular,” Schmidt said. “That is the industry that is slowest to add jobs.”

In July 2019, 360,400 people were employed in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to data provided by Schmidt. In August 2021, the most recent data available, 281,100 people were in the leisure and hospitality industry — a 78% recovery rate.

In March 2019, 174,000 people were employed in casino-hotels in Nevada, and in August 2021 that number was 108,500, a 62.36% recovery rate. In Las Vegas, 152,400 people were employed in casino-hotels in March 2019, compared with 94,400 people in August.

“These people have families and have been going through a very tough time,” said Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union, which represents about 60,000 workers in Nevada.

She added, “If you really care about the workers you have, you won’t be fighting this.”

Many properties had representatives speak out against the bill when it was proposed in March during the legislative session, saying the law would impose additional costs on businesses and micromanage how they operate. The sentiment hasn’t changed now that the law is being used.

In a statement, a Station Casinos spokesperson wrote, “Station Casinos was opposed to the enactment of SB386 for reasons that have proved to be correct. SB386 is a dumpster fire that discourages hiring by creating a liability trap for employers.”

The statement continued, “SB386 is the Culinary Union’s brainchild, but it should not have been difficult to understand that making hiring more difficult and more expensive does not result in increased hiring. As a direct result of this misguided and counterproductive law, Nevada employers like Station Casinos have returned to work fewer workers than they otherwise would have. It is time for everyone to admit that SB386 has hurt, not helped, hardworking Nevadans, especially union employees.”

Las Vegas resident Ronal Portillo’s daughter Arlette was born in late 2019, and a few months later he was laid off from his job of three years as a buffet cook for Fiesta Rancho, a Station property. His family has been relying on his wife’s income as a house cleaner since the casino hasn’t reopened.

“It’s been tough for me,” Portillo said. “Sometimes we need more money to pay the bills.”

Portillo has submitted an application to work at many different casinos, but he has not had any luck. As Portillo waits for the Fiesta Rancho to return, he has been working with the union to make sure other workers are aware of the return-to-work bill. He will file his own complaint if the Fiesta Rancho opens and does not rehire him.

“I’m hoping that (the casino opens) pretty soon,” Portillo said, “that they can call me back so that I can start working, you know? Because this is stressful, being home all the time, finding a job … and nothing.”

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