It’s official. The era of casino strikes is upon us. The first domino fell in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday, as 3,700 employees walked off the job at three casinos – MGM Grand Detroit, Hollywood Casino at Greektown, and Motor City Casino.
The Detroit Casino Council, which represents workers across five unions – Unite Here, the Teamsters, Operating Engineers, UAW and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters – called for the strike the day after worker contracts expired.
Union members voted two weeks earlier 99% in favor of a strike if agreements for a new contract couldn’t be reached by Oct. 16.
This strike comes just days after thousands of casino workers in Las Vegas were forming picket lines in front of MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment properties.
The Culinary and Bartenders Unions in Las Vegas say negotiations seemed to be sputtering, with chief negotiator Ted Pappageorge calling the latest offer from the casino corporations “insulting.”
He said a strike could be coming in weeks, and certainly would occur before the inaugural F1 Las Vegas Grand Prix, Nov. 16-18. Organizers anticipate the event will bring in 120,000 visitors and require service for 60,000 additional hotel rooms.
In Pennsylvania, employees at Harrah’s Philadelphia took to the picket lines on Friday – demanding raises while also clamoring about a possible strike.
Casino workers have never before taken to the streets and sidewalks in Michigan and Pennsylvania. In Nevada, the last time casino workers launched a citywide strike was in 1984.
The primary issue on all three fronts is wages. Dealers, valets, housekeepers and food-and-beverage workers have gone years with minimal raises and in many cases are making less than $10/hour.
This leaves many on government assistance or working second jobs at a time when casinos are reporting record revenues.
"After we helped Detroit's gaming industry get back on its feet, business is booming, but the people who make the casinos run are still struggling," Unite Here President Nia Winston said in a statement emailed to media.
Casinos in Detroit were still operative on Tuesday, though some services were reportedly limited.
MGM says that it will continue to operate during any strikes. "We've made six proposals to the union and our current offer includes the single largest pay increase in the history of MGM Grand Detroit," the company said in a statement.
MGM Resorts Midwest Group President and COO Matt Buckley told employees in a letter on Tuesday, "We will continue to offer employees work, and to the extent employees represented by the union choose to participate in the strike, we will take whatever lawful action is necessary to fill shifts and continue to provide our customers with entertainment and service."
In Las Vegas, MGM and a state employment agency hosted an information session for (non-union) casino job seekers at a local library.
Across the country and across the board, everyone seems to be getting ready for casino labor disputes to escalate.
Photo by Eric Seals / Gannett