Labor Day: Binion’s steakhouse server wants right to return to work

Local News

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Like many Las Vegans, Mario Sandoval is looking forward to a barbecue on Labor Day. And why not? It’s his holiday.

But it’s no normal holiday.

The 55-year-old server at Binion’s Gambling Hall hasn’t punched the clock at the steakhouse where he works since everything shut down on March 17.

“It’s Labor Day. We are the ones that make this country what it is,” Sandoval says. “Without labor, what would we have?”

SEE ALSO: Culinary Union’s work also helps non-union workers in return from COVID-19

After 36 years as a Binion’s employee, he just wants to go back to work. Sandoval has been a union member for 39 years and he’s a shop steward for Culinary Local 226, which keeps him busy as the Top of Binion’s Steakhouse remains closed.

What’s on his mind?

Sandoval doesn’t hesitate: “Hope — that right to return to work.”

Hope can take us a long ways. And I need some hope, because this whole pandemic, it’s no fault of the employee. I don’t know if it’s an act of man, an act of God,” Sandoval says. “But you know what? We just need some hope. Because this city is going to recover. The people are going to come back. I just want a job to go back to when the people come back. We helped build this city. The least the city can do for us is save our jobs, you know? Save our jobs.

Mario Sandoval

Here’s our conversation with Sandoval:

Mario Sandoval: March 17 of this year was our last day when they shut down. And it’s going to be six months here, Sept. 17, that I haven’t been back to work. The hotel itself, it’s open, but the restaurant that I work in is not open. And there’s no signs of when it’s opening, but I hope it’s soon.

Mario Sandoval (Photo courtesy Culinary Union)

8NewsNow: Have you stayed in touch with friends you have at work?

Sandoval: I do. I’m actually one of the shop stewards in my place of work, so I have constant contact with my co-workers, because when they need information they can call me. I’m always talking to everybody. We’ve even had Zoom meetings with my co-workers.

8NewsNow: You’ve seen from the outside what a lot of your union members have seen up close in-person — all the rules, all the guidelines, everything that’s gone into reopening businesses safely. Do you think you’re going to feel safe when it’s time to go back to work?

Sandoval: Oh, yes. Because before the SB4, we did caravans and actions to promote the safety guidelines of the opening up, because we wanted to feel protected when we did go back to work. Thank goodness, the SB4 is signed into law and it starts in about mid-September. Because that’s safety for everyone — visitors, employees — it’s for everybody. The enhanced cleaning, the disinfecting, the contact tracing. It makes you feel safer. That’s a very good thing, and like Geo (Culinary Secretary-Treasurer Geoconda Argüello-Kline) said, it’s for union and non-union people, because we’re all in this together. We’re in this together.

8NewsNow: You go to businesses now, and you see what everyone is doing. Do you feel like there’s another step that hasn’t been taken that you’d like to see taken?

Sandoval: No, I think the distancing, the wearing of masks should be mandatory because it’s no good if I’m wearing a mask and you’re not wearing a mask. Your mask is no good. I like the fact that we have to wear masks now. You go to the grocery store everybody’s wearing a mask. I feel comfortable. Of course, you’ve got to be careful, you know, when you touch things. You’ve got to sanitize your hands when you leave the store. Pump gas. Because if you forget a simple step like that, touch your eye, you know what could happen. But I think we’re going in the right direction.

8NewsNow: Can you tell me where you worked before the pandemic?

Sandoval: I work at Binion’s downtown, it’s a hotel casino. It was formerly the Horseshoe. I’ve been there for … December will be 36 years. I’m a food server in the steakhouse, and I’ve been a union member for 39 years.

8NewsNow: Congratulations on that.

Sandoval: Thank you, thank you.

8NewsNow: I don’t imagine this is a tough answer for you … your union membership has been something that you value?

Sandoval: Yes, I do. Being a union member has given me a lot of advantages. We fight for it, of course. But we’ve got the insurance, we’ve got our free pharmacy — zero copays — we’ve got our pension plan. Because pension plans are rare in this nation nowadays. As a dishwasher, you can have a pension plan. You can’t compare that to a lot of other places in this country. My union has been a great asset to me. It’s Labor Day. We are the ones that make this country what it is. Without labor, what would we have? In other places, they make cars. Here in Vegas, we park your car, we serve your food, we serve your drink, we make your drink, we make your bed. We serve you. That’s our contribution to labor in this city. I just wish I could go back to work. I want the right to return to work. Because I’m 55 now. If I was to lose my job, I would hate to start over. I’d like the County Commission to think really think about our right to return to work. We need a little hope. Because that’s all I have right now is hope — to go back to work to that same job I had. I’ve been there for so long. I don’t want to start over. Hope that my job is waiting for me is going to take me a long way, just like my faith takes me a long way. I need that hope. I hope the County Commission can make the right decision and give me that hope, because I need it. A lot of us need it. Not just me.

8NewsNow: There was some good news earlier this week, the agreement between Culinary, MGM, and Culinary, Caesars. Since then, the union has come out and said they are pursuing those same benefits and those same rights for another 24,000 union members who don’t work at those properties. How does that make you feel?

Sandoval: Hopeful. Hopeful. Because I’m one of those 24,000. I’m a labor activist. I’m always at the rallies, caravans … wherever they need me. Because it’s not about an individual. It’s about everybody. If you don’t take up the fight over labor, if you don’t take responsibility, who will? Somebody’s got to do it. And I’m there to do this. I’m hopeful.

8NewsNow: What are you going to be doing on Labor Day?

Sandoval: Well, I think I’m going to be barbecueing. I can relax because I know something is going to happen, and just enjoy it. That’s what Labor Day is for. We’ve worked in this country as laborers so we can enjoy Labor Day. It’s not just about hamburgers and stuff. It’s about being able to enjoy that day. If we hadn’t gone as far as we’ve come as workers, we’d be working six, seven days a week. We’re on a five-day-a-week schedule, thank goodness. So we can enjoy the fruits of our labor.

8NewsNow: What do you hope that your fellow union members are thinking about when they’ve returned to work — and they might have to work on Labor Day — what do you hope they’re thinking about?

Sandoval: I hope they’re thinking about the ones that are not working. And about having to work holidays, since I’ve gone through that, because in this city … it’s a 24-7 city, and a lot of times — I know when I started, I always worked Christmas, I always worked Fourth of July, so, I just hope the ones that are working are thinking about the ones that are not working. And when it comes to action, that they are there to support us when an action is being taken. Because we’re considered the little people, but when there’s a bunch of us, we’re big people.

8NewsNow: Do you feel like you’re a member of a powerful organization?

Sandoval: That I do. In 1989, we had a labor dispute with Binion’s Horseshoe, and at that time, that family, the Binions, were a big, big name in this city. That strike was over health care. I had two young kids at that time, and I knew if we stayed in, kept working, we were going to lose our health insurance. But that need for health insurance outweighed the need for the pay, because of my kids. So I was on strike for like, 10 months, for my kids. When that dispute was over, I was back to work one month, and I was stricken down with cancer. And that same insurance that I was fighting for for my kids is what saved my life. It was kind of ironic. It worked for me. You know, that insurance is still working for me today. I’m older, I’ve got diabetes, I’ve got high blood pressure. But that insurance that I fought for back then, it’s still working for me and I’m still fighting for it.

8NewsNow: What are you looking forward to most about going back to work?

Sandoval: I’m a social person. I like talking to people. I’ve been at my job going on 36 years. I have people that I was serving before they were 21. They came to my restaurant when they turned 21, had their first drinks and dinner. Now they have kids, and they’re asking me if I’m still going to be there when their kids turn 21. It’s awesome. I love socializing with people, because when you go to eat dinner, and the server knows what you’re going to have to drink, doesn’t that make you feel good? That’s the relationship I have with a lot of my customers. I’ve known them for decades.

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