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Casino Workers Union Takes Issue With Mississippi Casinos’ COVID-19 Safety Practices

Casinos not taking enough care

Another union representing casino employees has taken umbrage at working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. This time, it is UNITE HERE Local 23, which represents more than 300,000 casino workers throughout North America. On Thursday, the union presented a report at a meeting of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, detailing complaints its members have with the way health and safety protocols are being followed at the state’s casinos, along with suggestions on how to remedy the problem.

Among the complaints from employees of both the Beau Rivage and IP Biloxi are the casinos’ failure to properly enforce face covering mandates (employees and guests are required to wear masks), ineffective sanitization practices, and poor social distancing efforts.

The report said the Beau Rivage has had 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its staff, while IP Biloxi has had five.

For its part, the Mississippi Gaming Commission did say that it is listening. “I assure you that I am extremely aware of everything that you have said in your report, and what your testimony has been,” said Commissioner Al Hopkins. “I assure you that the two commissioners and I will meet together with regard to it to do what we can to make it as safe as possible.”

Working is top priority, not health

The most serious concern the union and its members have is that they feel that the casinos are not protecting their employees enough. For instance, according to WLOX, Carolyn Ford, a 17-year employee of IP Biloxi, said she caught COVID-19 from a colleague.

“Friday morning I got up. The nurse called me and told me I was positive,” Ford explained. “But, they wanted me to come back to work before I got the results. What if I would have come back and I could have spread it to more and more employees?”

Kelli Pizzi, a restaurant worker, said management’s attitude is similar at Beau Rivage. In her case, it was a combination of management not taking staff health seriously and not trusting its own employees. She was also exposed to the virus by a co-worker, but was told that since 14 days had passed that she shouldn’t worry about it.

“The next day I went and got tested,” Pizzi said. “My test was negative. After that, a manager told that they will catch a lot of people because they are just going to get tested so they can get time off work because they are running out of attendance points.”

Employees taking on responsibility of management

In addition to making things less safe for employees, the union says that the lack of concern by casino management has meant that the workers themselves have to shoulder most of the burden of keeping each other safe.

“They themselves have to take the task of going the extra mile to protect each other because the company is not moving expeditiously at all once they are learning of this,” said Unite Here Local 23 President, Marlene Patrick-Cooper, referring to management’s handling of COVID-19 exposure.

Patrick-Cooper continued, saying that casino management must act with more urgency. If an employee has COVID-19 symptoms, they need to be sent home to get tested immediately. The casino then needs to look at security tapes to help contact trace who that person was around so that those people can get tested.

“The main thing is to stop it. That’s what community exposure is all about,” she said.

The union’s report also recommended more frequent cleaning of hotel rooms. Current guidance only requires cleaning when a guest checks out. The union says that cleaning should be done every day.

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