IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Las Vegas workers push back after mayor's call to reopen casinos and hotels

"We're not test subjects. We're people. We are employees," said a bartender.
Get more newsLiveon

After Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called Wednesday for the swift reopening of hotels and casinos, many who earn their livelihoods in such establishments said they were afraid to return unless strict safety measures were introduced for themselves and guests.

Although Goodman said the businesses should reopen, she provided no guidelines on how they should handle social distancing and other safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

"I want us open in the city of Las Vegas so our people can go back to work," Goodman said in a CNN interview. She was asked how that could be accomplished while prioritizing employees' safety by implementing social distancing.

"That's up to them to figure out. I don't own a casino," she said.

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

D. Taylor, the president of UNITE Here, a union that represents more than 300,000 hospitality workers across the country, called Goodman's comments "one of the worst things I've heard."

"Nobody wants people to go back more than I do, but everyone wants to go back to a safe and secure workplace and not be an experiment in a petri dish," Taylor said.

Alexander Acosta, a banquet bartender with the Caesar Forum Conference Center, said the comments "struck a nerve" among workers.

"We're not test subjects. We're people. We are employees," Acosta said. "We try to live every day as we can. We shouldn't be test subjects."

Casino and hotel workers will not feel comfortable returning unless strict safety measures are introduced, including social distancing guidelines, thorough cleaning of facilities and temperature checks of patrons before they are allowed to enter.

Wynn Resorts, which owns multiple hotels and casinos in Las Vegas, released a report Sunday detailing a plan to reopen the Las Vegas Strip with safety measures like thermal cameras and social distancing.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak tweeted Wednesday that Las Vegas would reopen "when the time is right."

"And we are working around the clock to ensure we are not only the most fun destination in the world, but the safest," he said.

The Culinary Union, which represents the largest segment of workers on the Strip, said 11 members have died from COVID-19.

"Workers will be the reason we get through this pandemic and workers have to be protected," it tweeted. "We demand it."

Nevada has reported 4,081 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 172 deaths.

Jay Blake, who works in a VIP lounge at a Las Vegas casino, said that he understands Goodman's eagerness to return to normal but that he does not think she "put a lot of thought into what it could mean if we reopen too soon."

Blake said his job requires him to have more face-to-face interaction with guests than the average employee.

"Vegas is a unique destination, in that we rely on guests from all parts of the country, all parts of the world," he said. "I'm concerned if we open to everyone, [there will be] people coming from hot spots, places with outbreaks, where social distancing wasn't as stringent as it was here."

Download the NBC News app for full coverage and alerts about the coronavirus outbreak

Acosta said he and other workers are afraid that when they return, they will not know whether their guests are asymptomatic.

Blake said the casinos must develop plans in which "sanitation takes priority," including regularly cleaning dice and cards and limiting foot traffic in elevators and bars and at gaming tables.

Dee Kenny, 64, who works security at casinos on the Strip, said that she has underlying health issues and that for her to feel safe, she would like employers to provide workers with personal protective equipment and to test all employees for the virus and its antibodies.

"There's no proper protocols in place anywhere," Kenny said. "I'm not going to go back until I'm not at risk."

Acosta said he has spoken with other workers who are concerned about a shortage of protective equipment, similar to what health care workers are experiencing. As a bartender, he might need a mask and gloves, but he is worried whether he and his colleagues will have the correct equipment and enough of it.