Casino Workers in Vegas, Detroit Vote to Strike Over Wages, Job Security

Detroit’s unionized casino staff have voted nearly unanimously in favor of a strike, putting the decision to walk off the job in the hands of the Detroit Casino Council’s (DCC) worker negotiating committee.

A few days earlier and nearly 2,000 miles away, Vegas’ culinary and bartenders unions voted to strike in a similarly overwhelming fashion.

In the latter case, nearly 53,000 non-gaming Strip and downtown casino employees will walk off the job if the strike happens.

Meanwhile, a strike would affect almost 3,500 in Detroit, including food and beverage servers, housekeepers, customer service reps, slots and table attendants, and engineers.

In both cases, the contract goals include higher wages and more job security.

Casino Jobs Ought to be Good Jobs

On Friday, the DCC’s membership voted 99% in favor of a strike. The council represents five unions, including most staff at Detroit’s three land-based casinos.

With the result, DCC can call for a strike when existing contracts expire on Oct.16. In the lead-up, the council is negotiating higher wages at MGM Grand Detroit, Hollywood at Greektown, and MotorCity Casinos.

In 2020, Detroit casino workers signed a 3-year contract forgoing raises and accepting heavier workloads to help the industry recover following the COVID shutdowns.

With the end of restrictions and the legalization of online casinos and sportsbooks, gambling revenues have since recouped and surpassed pre-pandemic levels to new highs, said DCC in the vote announcement.

However, the DCC said that Detroit’s casino workers are getting left behind. That may explain the landslide result of the vote.

Workers are hoping to win contract gains that would bring Detroit casino jobs back in line with the standard of good jobs that were promised to hospitality workers when voters approved legalizing casino gaming in 1996.

Since September, DCC has focused negotiations on securing wage increases and making Detroit’s casino jobs “family-sustaining” jobs again.

Other concerns include retirement benefits and protections for workers impacted by new technology.

“One Job Should Be Enough”

Days earlier, in Vegas, workers authorized the first citywide strike against the resort industry in almost 40 years. There, the issue was mainly about compensation.

The roles affected cover non-gaming employees at nearly 50 Vegas properties, including guest attendants, food and drink servers, porters, bellhops, bartenders, laundry workers, and kitchen staff.

According to reports, crowds chanted, “One job should be enough,” as they voted at UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. In the end, 95% voted to take strike action.

While union representatives have said the vote is largely symbolic, if necessary, it does give leadership the option to call for a walkout.

However, gaming analysts expect parties to reach a deal before the Las Vegas Formula One debut in November.

Five years ago, the last time these unions had a strike vote, negotiations led to a contract, said Ted Pappageorge, the Culinary union’s secretary-treasurer, after Tuesday’s vote.

Union leaders are not optimistic they’ll avoid a walkout again, Pappageorge added.

I don’t know that we’re going to get to a contract this time. It does not look promising. We’re hoping for the best.

Talks between the unions and the strip’s three largest employers, Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, and Wynn Resorts, began in April.

In May, Caesars CEO Tom Reeg reportedly said to expect a “significant raise for our frontline workers.” Since then, representatives have declined to address the negotiations.

Pappageorge spoke to that silence after the strike vote.

These companies have the opportunity to step up to the plate and do the right thing, but we haven’t seen that yet for five months. We’d love to be able to say we have a deal. We’re not expecting it at this point.

Workers Fed Up

Previous contracts between the workers and the Vegas properties expired in May, but the unions permitted contract extensions with most properties. With those extensions, any wage increases agreed to in a final contract would be retroactive.

However, the extensions with MGM, Caesars, and Wynn lapsed earlier this month.

While terms and conditions of an expired collective bargaining agreement largely remain, the no-strike provisions no longer apply.

On top of wage and benefit increases, the union is looking to strengthen job security, reduce workloads, address technology, improve workplace safety, and bring more workers back to work.

Vegas’ operators need to share the wealth, added Pappageorge.

The pandemic has been difficult for everyone. Our members are dealing with inflation, high cost of gas, of rent, and their patience is done. The companies are doing extremely well. They’re making more money than they made in their histories. And they’ve got to be willing to share.

Detroit’s casino workers agree, said Nia Winston, president of Unite Here Local 24, in the DCC release.

Workers are fed up in an economy that is broken: costs keep going up, but when profits came back to the gaming industry, they didn’t go into workers’ pockets. Just like auto workers, Blue Cross Blue Shield staff, UPS workers, writers, and hotel workers, Detroit casino workers are considering all options available to make sure one job in a Detroit casino is enough to raise a family on. We expect the casinos to heed our concerns to avoid a strike.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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