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Alana Roberts

Wynn Exec Touts Benefits of Hiring Ex-prisoners

24 June 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Wynn Las Vegas' top human resources leader told a group of business leaders they should consider hiring nontraditional workers such as ex-prisoners and former welfare recipients.

"If you want to talk about diversity, it goes beyond skin color and national origin," Arte Nathan, chief human resources officer for Wynn Resorts, said during a luncheon of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

Companies are not required by law to hire workers with criminal pasts, but he said hiring such workers is part of embracing the true meaning of diversity.

Nathan is also chair of the Nevada Workforce Investment Board, a group charged with funneling federal labor dollars to local service providers that train workers for jobs.

He said he has been involved with hiring ex-offenders since 1993; since then about 100 workers have been recruited from the Nevada Department of Corrections to work at the Mirage, Treasure Island, Bellagio and now Wynn Las Vegas.

"Take a chance, whether you're hiring 10,000 workers or 10," Nathan said.

He said if companies don't hire ex-offenders, they're left out of work, with few options -- one of which includes committing more crimes.

Still, Nathan said, if a company hires such workers they should hire and place them carefully, "with your eyes wide open." He said his company works with officials of the Nevada Department of Corrections to target individuals that have the potential to become good workers.

"If someone was in prison for theft you wouldn't put them before a cash register," Nathan said. "We've done it for 14 years, we've been extremely successful. We hire counselors from the prison system to help us."

Nathan added that although a person with a theft conviction wouldn't be hired into a position that would involve handling money, they could work their way up into a cash-handling job.

He said all workers at Wynn Las Vegas go through a background check and drug testing.

Howard Skolnik, assistant director/industrial programs for the Nevada Department of Corrections, said companies such as Wynn Las Vegas that offer positions for ex-offenders are helping such workers to better their lives.

"Some of the folks they've taken have become very successful," Skolnik said.

Nathan also said diversity includes hiring people with disabilities and offering benefits that appeal to a diverse workforce, such as same-sex domestic partner benefits and pet health insurance. He said 3,800 of the company's workers have signed up for pet insurance coverage. Nathan said it's important to garner loyalty from workers by providing good wages, benefits and training.

"It's what you do after you hire them," Nathan said. "We understood if (we) take care of our employees they'll take care of us."

He said another way to strengthen a workforce is to promote from within.

"The people in this city are interested in getting ahead," Nathan said. "This promotion from within stuff is an effective retention tool."

Still, he said about 7 percent of Wynn Las Vegas' opening staff have already left their jobs--665 of the property's 9,500 original workers.

"I know people get scared when you start a new job," Nathan told the group. "Even if you hated the son-of-a bitch you were working for."

Nathan later said the company was able to replace about half of those workers who left with applicants who were on a waiting list. He said the others weren't replaced because the resorts remaining workers become more efficient.

"As business becomes normalized and people become more familiar, you don't have to replace (all of) those who leave," Nathan said.

Nathan said the resort is currently in its infancy, but the staff is doing even better than expected.

"We gave ourselves six to eight months," Nathan said. "We're in week nine. Right now we're feeling very comfortable with how the staff is performing."