LAS VEGAS (AP) — As a wave of jobless claims in Nevada swelled to nearly 245,000 since casinos and other businesses were shuttered in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, union leaders called Thursday for company owners to commit to paying idled workers until resorts reopen.
"The industry has done well. We think they should step up and pay workers through these closures," D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, the parent company of the powerful Culinary Union, said in a news conference call.
"The idea of paycheck protection is to allow workers to be paid and keep benefits," Taylor said. He called for states including Nevada, Mississippi and New Jersey to use licensing powers to require companies to pay laid-off employees during the shutdown.
Just hours earlier, the U.S. Department of Labor reported almost 80,000 more Nevadans filed jobless claims last week.
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Gov. Steve Sisolak and state officials have acknowledged the Nevada jobless office was overwhelmed by the record 93,000 applications filed the week after the governor ordered businesses closed. Another 71,400 Nevadans sought unemployment the following week.
The state Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation now says it has more than doubled staff from 75 to 200 and expanded hours to try to handle the flood of benefits applications. The department releases its numbers on Fridays. A spokeswoman declined Thursday to comment about the federal report.
Sisolak's office announced Thursday evening that it had hired a call center company to help field calls for those seeking unemployment benefits, adding at least 100 more phone operators. That's on top of the state already nearly tripling the number of people it has fielding unemployment calls.
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Taylor noted the union helped lobby Congress to get federal recovery money for casino companies under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief package aimed at helping businesses, workers and the health care system. Workers expected paycheck protection, he said.
But while Wynn Resorts, which has casinos in Las Vegas and Boston, has pledged to keep workers on the payroll, union officials said larger companies including MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment have made no similar commitments.
"They don't see the workers. They only see the compensation for the top executives," said Geoconda Arguello-Kline, Culinary Union secretary-treasurer in Las Vegas. "They only see the numbers. They don't see what the people are going through ... how they are going to pay their utilities, how they are going to keep their homes, how they are going to pay their rent. They're not thinking of these families."
Caesars declined to comment. The company last week furloughed 90% of its 60,000-plus employees with two weeks' pay and health insurance through June 30.
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MGM Resorts, Nevada's largest employer, had about 77,000 employees when it began limited layoffs a year ago to cut costs. It has reported collecting about $11 million in donations from performance headliners and others for an employee coronavirus emergency relief fund.
In a statement, the company said it is gearing up for post-virus changes in the travel and hospitality industry, "because the most impactful thing we can do for our employees in the long term is to bring them back to work."
"The decisions we are making are to ensure that we have the resources to not just reopen, but also to operate successfully," it said.
The governor has increasingly tightened restrictions on personal interactions in public. He issued new orders this week closing golf courses, banning real estate open houses and limiting religious gatherings to fewer than 10 people. He also said grocery stores can't offer self-service bulk foods or salad bars, to prevent customers sharing scoops and servers.
State health officials Thursday night reported 86 deaths statewide from COVID-19, with nearly 2,500 of almost 22,000 people tested statewide showing positive for the virus.
Most people with the virus experience mild or moderate fever and coughing for two to three weeks. Some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, can face severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.