Caesars doing little to protect workers from COVID, casino union says (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//August 6, 2020

Caesars doing little to protect workers from COVID, casino union says (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//August 6, 2020

Bally's Atlantic City.
Atlantic City casinos were allowed to reopen on July 2. – DANIELLE KOVNAT

Leadership at the state’s primary casino worker union, Unite Here Local 54, charged that Caesars Entertainment ignored health and safety protocols from the Murphy administration and its own guidelines meant to protect staff against COVID-19.

Caesars – which owns four of the nine casinos in Atlantic City – failed to do temperature checks of guests, instead employing verbal screenings relying on the good word from customers, Unite alleges. And, the casino giant hasn’t complied with the Murphy administration’s requirements for daily room cleaning, the union said.

They’ve done only lackluster enforcement of face-covering requirements among guests, failed to enforce 6-foot physical distancing requirements, and haven’t provided workers with enough personal protective equipment, Unite alleges.

“People are not wearing masks, people are wearing masks down below their nose, not wearing it properly, and when you ask them to wear it they really don’t like to comply,” Jason McKnight, a bartender at Harrah’s, said at a virtually-held press conference with Unite.

“You’re definitely fighting an uphill battle. I don’t see security guards, managers, or anyone else going around and enforcing it,” he said.

The alleged violations hadn’t led to any cases of COVID-19 among casino workers, according to Donna DeCaprio, Local 54’s secretary treasury, even though several workers contracted the virus after casinos were allowed to reopen on July 2.

“It appears, though, they did not contract that on the property, because it happened shortly after the casinos reopened, so they would have been infected prior to that,” she said. “So they are out of work self-quarantining.”

Steve Callender, regional president for Caesars Entertainment, Atlantic City Region – which owns Caesars Atlantic City, Harrah’s, Bally’s, and now Tropicana thanks to a $17.3 billion merger with Eldorado Resorts – maintains that the company has taken considerable strides to protect worker health.

“Caesars Entertainment’s Atlantic City health and safety plan was developed with an expert in the field and in accordance with the governor’s Executive Orders, all state directives, and CDC guidance,” he said in a statement.

Evidently, Hard Rock Hotel Casino, Golden Nugget, Resorts Casino Hotel and the Borgata had all taken appropriate measures, DeCaprio said, and Ocean Resort Casino had been making efforts to be brought up to compliance.

“They’re more worried about the guests than the employees who are there who help them make the place run,” said Janey Negron, a bartender at Tropicana.

We can’t rely on these companies to do the right thing. The workers are at risk and they need to be protected.

— Donna DeCaprio, secretary treasury, Unite Here Local 54

Casinos were allowed to reopen after July 2 at reduced capacity and with an array of health and safety protocols, like face coverings and physical distancing. Hard Rock installed plexiglass between gaming tables and the customers, as well as wall-mounted thermal cameras. Both Resorts and Hard Rock put empty seats between occupied slot machines.

“In addition to our enhanced cleaning protocols and other requirements that apply to our valued team members, all of our guests must pass a screening process before being allowed into our properties and must wear face masks in compliance with the governor’s orders,” Callender added.

But Caesars hadn’t followed through on many of the measures, DeCaprio alleged, saying for example that there were 75 instances of the company not thoroughly cleaning rooms, and 180 instances of not thoroughly screening guests.

“We can’t rely on these companies to do the right thing,” she said. “The workers are at risk and they need to be protected.”

Representatives from Gov. Phil Murphy’s office, the attorney general’s office and the Division of Gaming Enforcement, which oversees the state’s casinos, did not return requests for comment.

According to DeCaprio, the complaints would be first escalated through the Atlantic City code enforcement office, but several officials there did not immediately comment.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:27 a.m. EST on Aug. 7, 2020, to include comments from Steve Callender, regional president for Caesars Entertainment, Atlantic City Region.