13 April 2023
Passage of SB441 would remove pandemic-imposed requirements placed on the gaming industry, including the cleaning of hotel rooms on a daily basis.
Nevada’s major hotel-casino operators said daily room cleaning won’t disappear. They just want the language stricken from state law.
“SB441 puts health and safety regulations back under state agencies instead of prescribed in statue, which allows for flexibility when situations change, provides choice for guests and removes one of the last remaining COVID-era mandates in the country,” Nevada Resort Association President Virginia Valentine told state lawmakers during a hearing on the bill Tuesday.
She wasn’t alone.
A steady stream of resort industry executives, business leaders and representatives from the state’s largest health districts said the protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, written into SB4 during the 2020 special legislative session, are no longer applicable.
Resort officials said if guests want their room cleaned on a daily basis, they will comply with those wishes. Several speakers noted that many hotel guests want nothing more than fresh towels or incidental cleaning.
“We will continue to clean our hotel rooms daily to maintain our Forbes Five Star designation,” Wynn Resorts General Counsel Ellen Whittemore wrote in a letter to the committee. “As a matter of public policy, we do not believe that a statutory requirement of daily room cleaning continues to be necessary or beneficial.”
Daily hotel room cleaning mandates came about when medical experts advised to clean and disinfect everything over fears that COVID-19 could spread through contact on surfaces.
SB4 contained language to protect governmental agencies and nonprofits from COVID-19-related litigation as long as they showed substantial compliance with local, state or federal policies on COVID safety policies. The gaming industry and various business groups supported the bill, arguing that it was necessary to help avoid frivolous lawsuits that could threaten businesses attempting to restart or continue operations amid the COVID pandemic.
Bradley Mayer, a lobbyist for the Southern Nevada Health District, told the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services that inspection requirements spelled out in the 2020 bill are now a significant impediment because they divert the district’s environmental health staff “away from the myriad of responsibilities.”
Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop on the final day of the 81st session of the Legislature on Monday, May 31, 2021, in Carson City. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)
‘We got it right’
Bill sponsor Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) said at the hearing’s outset a repeal of SB4 wasn’t about “something we got wrong. Quite the opposite. This is [the] sunset of something we got right. It worked then but it doesn’t work now.”
Culinary Workers Local 226 was the lone voice in opposition to SB441, with Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge and union President Diana Valles backed by dozens of red-T-shirt-clad union members during their presentation from a hearing room at the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas.
Pappageorge said he expects to codify daily hotel room cleaning during negotiations for new labor agreements between the union and dozens of Strip and downtown resorts covering some 60,000 non-gaming employees. The contracts, negotiated in 2018, expire at the end of May.
The union isn’t opposed to repealing certain aspects of SB4, but Pappageorge said the bill, as written, should not be approved. He said daily room cleaning “was standard practice” in Las Vegas prior to the pandemic, adding that was “still a good policy.”
Hotel executives suggested sustainability and conservation efforts were also part of the effort to reduce the number of daily room cleanings.
“Protecting daily room cleaning means protecting workers, protecting Las Vegas’ image and protecting hotel customers,” Pappageorge said. He questioned the operations of Nevada resort operators post-pandemic, saying short-term costs have been cut in order to “to achieve long-term downsizing of labor and increase their profits.”
Pappageorge repeated remarks made by UNITE HERE President D. Taylor a week ago during an Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections hearing in support of a state lottery bill. He questioned the ways casino operators spent profits from last year’s record-setting $14.8 billion in statewide gaming revenue.
Culinary Union Secretary-Treasurer Ted Pappageorge looks back at former employees of Station Casinos during a news conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The workers filed a lawsuit against the company alleging violations of the ‘Right to Return’ law. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)
A political issue
One area he criticized was employment. Pappageorge cited figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed the state’s casinos employed 148,400 workers as of January. In January 1994, that figure was 148,800.
“You would think with all these profits, a lot more jobs for Nevadans would be created,” Pappageorge said.
Gaming industry lobbyist Billy Vassiliadis responded to the profit issue following a question from Committee Chairman Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas).
“I don’t understand what the whole profit discussions are [about] because this is an industry that tanked for two years as a result COVID,” Vassiliadis said concerning Nevada’s 35 percent gaming revenue decline in 2020. “This industry reinvested heavily to be able to recover from COVID. I don’t understand why this has become such a contentious issue, such a political issue.”
He added that the terminology put into SB4 in 2020 is no longer relevant.
Gaming representatives denied the elimination of daily cleaning protocols was about cutting costs, adding the industry struggles to fill open positions lost during COVID.
Andrew Diss, senior vice president for Grand Sierra and Sahara owner Meruelo Group, said the company has taken entire hotel room floors offline because it hasn’t been able to attract enough workers to meet the cleaning requirements.
“This is not a matter of intentionally keeping staffing levels low,” said Ayesha Molino, senior vice president with MGM Resorts International. “We currently have more than 200 open guest room attendant positions and experience a guest room attendant turnover rate of 14 percent.”
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