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Economy

Las Vegas workers sue casinos over COVID-19 safety

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Seminole Gaming CEO and Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen on implementing coronavirus safety measures and moving Hard Rock’s Las Vegas location.

Las Vegas Strip hospitality workers filed a lawsuit against casino operators on Monday accusing the companies of failing to protect employees from Covid-19, one of the first efforts to hold employers legally responsible for infections as cases in the U.S. surge.

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The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas against the owners of Harrah’s, MGM Grand and Bellagio casinos, says the companies didn’t immediately shut down food-and-beverage outlets and other areas after learning of positive cases, didn’t immediately inform employees when co-workers tested positive, and didn’t adequately contact-trace before allowing colleagues of infected employees to return to the job.

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Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, through their joint bargaining agency, filed the lawsuit against Harrah’s Las Vegas LLC, a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corp., and The Signature Condominiums LLC at the MGM Grand and Bellagio LLC, subsidiaries of MGM Resorts International.

The lawsuit said unsafe working conditions violate the unions’ contract. The unions represent 60,000 hospitality workers.

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In response to the lawsuit, MGM Resorts said the company has offered free testing to workers before returning to the job and requires testing for anyone with symptoms or who might have been exposed. Managers have been trained in response protocols and work closely with public-health officials’ on contract tracing following positive test results, according to the company.

Caesars didn’t immediately provide comment.

Senate Republicans and the Trump administration have pushed to shield companies from liability during the coronavirus pandemic as a condition of the next round of relief for households and businesses. U.S. companies have expressed concern about litigation as workers get sick or die from Covid-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has said the risk of class-action claims and other lawsuits could deter businesses from reopening.

Las Vegas casinos were allowed to reopen on June 4 with masks voluntary for guests. Three weeks later, after calls from unionized workers, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered anyone inside casinos to wear face coverings beginning June 26.

Nevada reported 734 new cases Monday, bringing the total to 17,894 cases and 504 deaths.

CORONAVIRUS LEAVES VEGAS CASINOS ROLLING SNAKE EYES

Sixto Zermeno, a bellman at the Signature at MGM Grand for 10 years who is part of the lawsuit, said that when he was called back to work, the hotel was short-staffed, and guests weren’t social-distancing or wearing masks. On June 10, he was tested for Covid-19 after getting a fever and headache, and the next day learned that he was positive.

He said management was difficult to reach to report his case, and after alerting the MGM Resorts corporate office, the company didn’t immediately close down the bell desk and valet booth where he worked. Bellmen and valets who worked shifts with him continued to interact with guests, according to the lawsuit.

“We’re not just numbers,” Mr. Zermeno said at a news conference Monday. “We’re families also. We’re human. I just want them to care, honestly.”

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At least three valets and bellmen at The Signature have tested positive, according to the lawsuit.

It also says that Harrah’s failed to properly respond when a food runner at Guy Fieri Vegas Kitchen and Bar, co-managed by Harrah’s, tested positive.

Nineteen union workers or their dependents have died from Covid-19, according to the union.

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Economy

NYC first responders sue ambulance operator for pay and work violations

Out-of-state EMTs and paramedics who risked their lives to help New Yorkers during the coronavirus crisis say the FEMA subcontractor that hired them controlled every second of their deployment, including their sex lives — and then refused to pay them for all of their time.

According to a stunning lawsuit filed in Brooklyn state court, private ambulance operator Ambulnz promised the group of first responders it recruited back in March it “would be paid for 24-hours a day, 7-days a week” for deploying to the city as the COVID-19 cases began skyrocketing.

But Ambulnz went back on its word after the recruits arrived, including by refusing to pay people for the time it took to drive their ambulances to NYC, according to the suit.

Once in the Big Apple, Ambulnz told the recruits “to remain in their hotel rooms at all times when not on shift,” the lawsuit said, and were ordered to refrain from “consuming alcohol or engaging in any sexual activity while at their hotel, in order to remain ‘on call’ for any emergencies.”

Those who disobeyed faced punishment, including possible termination, according to the suit. Ambulnz even placed a security guard in the hotel lobby and required its workers to carry GPS devices to ensure they stayed put, the lawsuit said.

In an interview with The Post, lead plaintiff James Richard said he worked seven days a week for the month of April, responding to heart attacks, gunshot incidents and COVID-19 cases while helping the fire department respond to 911 calls. When he wasn’t working, Richard said he was awakened by blaring calls on his emergency-responder radio, which he was required to have with him at all times.

The 29-year-old EMT from Murfreesboro, Tenn., said he only learned of the company’s actual pay policy about two weeks into his stint when he was given a document showing that his pay — 1.25 times his regular pay, plus overtime, for seven 12-hour shifts a week — would be less than other FEMA responders.

Richard was told he could accept the terms or go home, he said. “I didn’t want to leave New York in that state,” Richard said about the city’s massive COVID-19 caseload. “Morally, I couldn’t do that.”

FEMA declined to provide information about its pay requirements, but the lawsuit claims that all other ambulance services companies contracted by FEMA during this time paid their EMTs and paramedics for 24/7 shifts.

Once its workers returned home, Ambulnz asked them to sign general-release agreements giving up their right to recover unpaid wages, said Sally Abrahamson, the group’s lawyer. She said the company also is trying to enforce arbitration agreements it had EMTs sign shortly before deploying them.

Ambulnz defended its pay practices in a statement saying that it “verified compensation practices for our New York City COVID-19 response contract with two separate, independent top-tier labor law firms,” and that both firms “confirmed that our payroll practices exceeded the amount required by law.“

However, legal experts indicated such employment conditions merit better treatment. “When you tell an employee you have to stay in your hotel room, can’t have a beer, and can’t have sex, that’s pretty good evidence that the time belongs to the company and should be compensable,” said labor lawyer Louis Pechman, who teaches a course on wage theft at Fordham University.

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