Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008 | 2 a.m.
In Today's Sun
The other two profiles in this series:
- Numbers tell the story: 900 jobs, 76,400 unemployed (12-7-2008)
- Longer lines, slimmer hopes (12-7-2008)
- Once a waitress, now just waiting (11-30-2008)
- When a recession hits home (11-2-2008)
One of three profiles in an occasional series of stories devoted to people caught in Nevada’s recession.
Maria Chenes’ career — like the industry that employed her for 34 years — had seemed recession-proof until six months ago.
Like a bad joke, she was laid off on a Friday the 13th from her job in the convention department of Bally’s and Paris Las Vegas.
She’s still looking for a job, trolling the Web for work and waiting for calls from her union, Teamsters Local 995, about openings.
She has been called three times. That’s three available jobs in six months and one job for as many as eight out-of-work union members.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, she says.
Chenes, 53, got her first job as an 18-year-old front-desk clerk when the original MGM hotel opened in 1973. She worked for the Maxim and Showboat hotels, which eventually went bankrupt under different owners. For 18 years, she worked for predecessor companies to Harrah’s Entertainment, laboring through recessions, buyouts, mergers, boom and bust cycles and a new luxury resort era.
“If there was a downturn, we’d ride right through it,” said Chenes, who grew up in Las Vegas. “This time the rug got pulled right out from under us.”
Like many long-term employees who have witnessed the stupendous growth of the casino business up close, Chenes talks about the industry the way one would talk about a parental figure — as a rock of support.
Her $15-an-hour-plus day-shift job was a sure thing. Layoffs happened to other people.
Yet this recession, which has pummeled casinos along with many other sectors of the economy, is hitting home in Las Vegas, where thousands have lost jobs in the hospitality sector.
Chenes’ old department, where employees assist convention clients, is one-third its original size.
“It’s a scary time,” she says.
It’s also bad timing for Chenes, who is going through a divorce. One of her three children is getting married and another is finishing college in California.
After weeks of deliberation, she made a tough choice this month: She will break from the casino fold, take her union pension and seek a job elsewhere, possibly with the Clark County School District or another government entity.
She will miss some aspects of her old job, which enabled her to help tourists without following a script.
“I liked helping people coming into town,” Chenes said. “They get so excited. And you got to know some people on the phone.”
But she won’t miss the corporate culture or pressure-cooker atmosphere at Harrah’s, she said.
Her pension, which doesn’t include health insurance, is worth a few thousand dollars and will support her job search, which she said feels something like a hunt for a needle in a haystack. Her experience isn’t necessarily a boon for employers, many of whom are seeking younger workers.
Despite her situation, Chenes is chatty and optimistic — a skill honed during three decades in customer service.
“It’s touch and go right now. But I feel lucky and blessed to have a pension,” she said.
“Some people have nothing.”