Casino employees demonstrate to demand unemployment payments, reopening their workplaces

By John McPhaul

Around 100 employees from the 16 casinos in Puerto Rico held a demonstration in front of the island Department of Labor and Human Resources on Wednesday to demand the reopening of their workplaces and denounce the lack of unemployment payments.

“We are here today, in front of the Labor Department, representing more than 3,000 colleagues in our casino industry, demanding payment of the unemployment insurance benefit,” said Valeria Santos, a co-organizer of the demonstration, in a written statement. “There are many colleagues who have not received even a single unemployment payment since the casinos were closed in March.”

“The Executive Order on July 17 (OE-2020-054), which unilaterally closed the casinos again, has made it impossible for other colleagues to claim the payment of their unemployment again,” Santos added.

Yimarie Oliveras, another co-organizer of the demonstration, noted that “we are more than 3,000 employees, men and women, parents, who want to work and contribute to the economy.”

“In addition, we represent more than 80,000 families throughout the island that are dedicated to the tourism industry,” she added.

Both women noted the pride and satisfaction they derive from working in the Puerto Rico casino industry. Casinos contribute over $145 million to the island economy, benefiting the University of Puerto Rico, the Tourism Co. and the General Fund, they said.

“It is not fair that the government allows the operation of illegal slot machines in pharmacies, gas stations, bakeries and other places without hygiene and distancing measures, while the casinos remain closed,” Oliveras said.

Santos demanded on behalf of her colleagues “that the casinos be opened so that we can return to work and support our families.”

“We want to work now, to continue contributing to the well being of the country,” she said.

The rally organizers noted that for casino owners and managers the health and safety of their colleagues and customers is a priority. Therefore, casinos meet the highest standards that govern the industry, they said, having implemented the most rigorous protocols established by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Tourism Co., and the island Gaming Commission to address the coronavirus pandemic.

Puerto Rico casinos have implemented strict protocols such as surveillance by cameras, security officers, a 24/7 gaming inspector, mandatory use of masks, physical distancing with free spaces between each game, body temperature measurement, cleaning procedures, and disinfection and sanitation stations, the demonstration organizers said.

“We are ready to work now and receive our customers with all the required measures, in order to continue contributing to the country’s economy,” Santos said.