Workers made sacrifices to keep the industry afloat amidst the pandemic, call for their fair share as industry booms
DETROIT—Thousands of union casino workers are on strike today after months of full-table negotiations and meetings by department failed to result in a deal with the city’s three casinos. The workers, represented by the Detroit Casino Council (DCC), are seeking contract improvements after years of pandemic hardship, but casino management remains unwilling to deliver a fair contract for workers.
The union worked all night to prepare revised proposals in the hopes of averting a strike. The companies came back with a final proposal late Tuesday morning that the unions rejected based on five core concerns that the companies’ offer failed to meet, including protecting healthcare, winning job security/technology language that already exists in other casino markets, improving the value of retirement where there has been no increase in eight years, reducing the high workloads that have resulted from 1500 fewer jobs post pandemic, and securing significant wage increases to make up for the ones workers sacrificed during the pandemic.
The strike has a wall-to-wall impact on operations at the MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino, and Hollywood Casino at Greektown, involving 3,700 workers employed in positions throughout the properties including dealers, cleaning staff, food and beverage workers, valets, engineers and more.
“Making the decision to strike is never easy, but it’s past time for the workers who keep Detroit’s casinos running to get their fair share,” said Nia Winston, President of UNITE HERE Local 24, the union of hospitality workers in Detroit. “The city’s big three casino operators are earning more than ever, and we’re prepared to stay out on strike until we get what we deserve.”
“The company is offering us nickels and dimes, and they want us to pay more for healthcare,” says Terri Sykes, a dealer at MotorCity Casino with 24 years of service and President of UAW Local 7777. “As a two-time breast cancer survivor, I’m fighting to protect our health care. These companies are making more than ever, and it’s time they respect us for all the sacrifices we made to keep the doors open during the pandemic.”
“I’m a mother of two and will welcome my third child by the end of the year. I’m willing to go on strike to fight for what my family and I need,” said Shataya Thompson, a valet cashier at MotorCity Casino and member of Teamsters Local 1038. “We need a fair contract that guarantees good wages that keep up with inflation and also protects our healthcare.”
“There are 1,500 fewer people working in Detroit casinos, but there is the same amount of work to do. I can’t always take a lunch break or enjoy my hard-earned vacation time,” said Milledge McCaster, a 14-year Lead Engineer at Hollywood Casino at Greektown and member of Operating Engineers Local 324. “During the pandemic, we made sacrifices to help the industry, but now that they are making more money than ever, they’ve forgotten that.”
“We are fighting from Detroit to Vegas, from Biloxi to Pennsylvania ,to raise wages and standards for casino workers,” said Gwen Mills, Secretary-Treasurer of UNITE HERE International Union, the union of North American hospitality workers. “Hospitality workers overall across the US and Canada kept the doors open during the pandemic, risking their health and forgoing raises. Now they are striking in Detroit, Los Angeles and Vancouver, along with hundreds of thousands of other workers from other industries, demanding a share in the prosperity that the hospitality industry is currently experiencing.”
Detroit’s casino workers sacrificed raises and shouldered heavier workloads so the industry could recover from the pandemic. In September 2020, workers agreed to a three-year contract extension with minimal wage increases to help the industry get back on its feet. Since then, Detroit casino workers have received only 3% raises, but inflation in Detroit has risen 20%.
In contrast, industry gaming revenues have now surpassed pre-pandemic levels to reach a new record high. In 2022, the Detroit casino industry generated $2.27 billion in gaming revenue and is on track for another record-breaking year in 2023. The three Detroit casinos collectively reported $813 million more in total gaming revenues in 2022 than in 2019, but total wages paid to workers represented by the DCC were $34 million less when comparing those same years.
According to a report released by the DCC on Monday, each day of a strike could put approximately $738,000 in city and state tax revenues and $3.4 million in casino operator revenues at risk. For the City of Detroit, this wagering tax is a critical source of revenue used to fund job creation, public safety, economic development, and youth development programs. In 2022, the wagering tax was the City’s second highest revenue source, even surpassing property taxes.
The Detroit Casino Council (DCC) is UNITE HERE Local 24, the UAW, Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324, and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters. These five unions represent most of the workers at the three casinos in Detroit: Hollywood Casino at Greektown, MGM Grand Detroit, and MotorCity Casino. Our members work in food and beverage, housekeeping, retail outlets, slots and table games, engineering and more. The DCC partner unions are part of International Unions that have experience representing gaming workers and winning great contracts throughout the United States, including in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.