September 19, 2018 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 0Comment

I wouldn’t last long working in a casino. The tobacco smoke, noise, and raucous patrons would do me in after a few weeks.  But if you live in a locale where a casino resort is the primary employment option, you might not have much of a choice.

The long tenure of casino employees is one thing that caught my attention in a paper published this week in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.  “On‐the‐ground health and safety experiences of non‐union casino hotel workers,” reports on focus groups conducted with 61 individuals who work in one of eight Las Vegas casino resorts owned by the same company. They were employed in one of four occupations: guest room attendants; porters; kitchen workers; and front-the-house jobs, such as hosts, cashiers, servers, bartenders, and bellhops. The mean length of employment in their current job was 11.5 years, with several workers employed more than 20 years in their current job. Of the 61 participants, 44 (72%) were Hispanic/Latino and 36 were women. The mean age was 49 years.

Among the findings:

  • More than one-third of the 14 guest room attendants reported that they didn’t have the appropriate tools to clean toilets.
  • All 16 porters described health problems from exposure to dust, with 80 percent wanting to use dust masks and two specifically told not to use masks around guests.
  • All of the porters also reported having to clean-up blood, vomit, urine/feces, or hypodermic needles, with most of the guest room attendants reported doing so as well.

Pain caused by work was a common theme discussed during the focus groups.

  • Twelve of 13 guest room attendants reported suffering from work-related pain, as did 13 of 14 of the front-of-the-house workers

The authors, who are affiliated with the City University of New York and the union UNITE Here, set out to examine the health and safety (H&S) experiences of non-union casino hotel workers in Las Vegas. They describe four key themes that emerged from the focus groups including employer-controlled factors that negatively affect H&S and the hotel management’s lack of concern for employees’ H&S. It seems the management’s lack of concern extends to patrons. A majority of the 16 kitchen workers noted that they were required to use expired food.

Reading the paper reminded me of excellent reporting earlier this year by Dave Jamieson at the Huffington Post on the strength of organized labor in Las Vegas. The Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Local 165, Jamieson writes, are thriving in Nevada and represents 57,0000 workers at the majority of casinos and hotels on the Las Vegas strip.

“Even though the right-to-work law means none of those workers can be required to support the union through their paychecks, more than 95 percent of those workers choose to pay full union dues anyway, keeping the union on strong financial footing. That is an astounding rate by any measure.”

The authors of “On‐the‐ground health and safety experiences of non‐union casino hotel workers,” wrap up their findings by describing the mutual benefit of collective bargaining agreements. That is, safer working conditions and a supportive environment can reduce stress and injury which can lead to improvements in employee job satisfaction and productivity.

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