Former Sundowner employees sign letters to Nevada’s U.S. Congressional delegation.

Former Sundowner employees sign letters to Nevada’s U.S. Congressional delegation.

Photo By David Robert

Sundowner employees lobby for law changes
Dozens gathered outside the Thompson Federal Building Monday to sign letters to elected officials. Then, because security personnel might be nervous if about 50 former employees of the Sundowner Hotel Casino entered the building all at once, they formed a couple of smaller contingents to deliver the letters.

“We’ll probably just get a receptionist,” predicted Tom Stoneburner of the Alliance for Workers’ Rights. “But if there’s a staffer, we deliver the letters and tell them what it’s about.”

Stoneburner summed up the message the letters contained: If lawmakers want to give a Christmas present to American workers this holiday season, they should consider strengthening what he described as toothless laws offering protection to laborers. For one, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires an employer to give 60 days’ notice before a plant closing or layoff, appears to have “loopholes big enough to drive a Peterbilt truck through.”

Sundowner employees were given appropriate notice of the Reno casino’s closure. Then, three weeks short of the 60-day period, the casino closed suddenly on Nov. 11. The workers found they had no recourse.

“It appears that no agency is charged with or even has the authority to enforce this,” read each of the letters delivered to the offices of Sen. Harry Reid, Sen. John Ensign and Rep. Jim Gibbons.

To add insult to injury, the 375 unemployed casino workers weren’t even eligible, it appears, to receive the benefits of another federal law, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, that provides emergency health insurance to the recently unemployed.

Because the casino partially self-insured its employees, the protection was not available to its former workers. That’s a “tragedy waiting to happen,” according to the letters, because most gambling properties use similar insurance plans.

“You can imagine the tragic consequences of a closure of a larger property leaving workers critically exposed if they immediately need the protection of this act. … We have been in contact with workers who are in extreme danger because of medical conditions and their financial ability to obtain life-saving medications.”

Kathy Stoneburner, an event organizer who led a contingent to Gibbons’ office, was pleased to be able to meet with Gibbons’ chief of staff, Robert Uithoven. Stoneburner said he “was very positive.”

“They can take a look at these issues,” she said. “He seemed willing to help … so that this wouldn’t happen again.”