Thousands of workers at Detroit’s three casinos are gearing up for a possible strike as their contracts are set to expire on Monday night. The union members are seeking higher wages, better health care, and more input on the use of technology in their workplaces.
The Detroit Casino Council, which represents 3,700 workers across five unions, announced that 99% of its members voted to authorize a strike if necessary. The council has been negotiating with MGM Grand Detroit, Hollywood at Greektown, and MotorCity casinos for months, but has not reached a satisfactory agreement.
The workers say they made financial sacrifices and agreed to a three-year contract extension with minimal wage increases last year to help the casinos survive the COVID-19 shutdowns2. Now, they want to share in the profits as the casinos recover from the pandemic.
“We are the workers that made financial sacrifices and extended our contract so that the casinos could weather the storm during COVID,” said Jamil Johnson, a server at D.PRIME Steakhouse in MGM Grand Detroit. “We want economic justice and we want to maintain our current health care.”
Johnson said he contracted COVID-19 twice while working at the casino and spent three weeks in the hospital. He credited his union-negotiated health care for covering his medical expenses and allowing him to take care of his family.
Casinos say they are committed to reaching a fair deal
The three casinos issued statements saying they are committed to reaching a fair contract with their employees and avoiding a strike. They also highlighted the measures they have taken to protect their workers and customers from COVID-19, such as requiring vaccinations, masks, and testing.
“We value our team members and appreciate their hard work and dedication,” said David Tsai, president of MGM Grand Detroit. “We remain optimistic that we will reach an agreement that is fair and equitable for all parties.”
Jacci Woods, vice president of public relations and community affairs for MotorCity Casino, said the casino has offered “very competitive wage increases” and “enhanced benefits” to its workers.
“We respect our team members’ right to choose whether or not to be represented by a union,” Woods said. “We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both parties.”
Marvin Beatty, vice president of community relations for Hollywood at Greektown, said the casino is “working diligently” to finalize a new contract with its employees.
“We are confident that we will reach an agreement that recognizes the contributions of our team members and allows us to remain competitive in the marketplace,” Beatty said.
Workers prepare for picketing as deadline approaches
The union contracts with the three casinos are set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 16. If no deal is reached by then, the workers will walk off their jobs and start picketing outside the casinos.
The workers have been preparing for this scenario by making signs and wearing union shirts. They have also signed up for picketing shifts and received strike pay information from their unions.
Nia Winston, president of UNITE HERE Local 24, which represents about 1,500 casino workers, said the workers are ready to strike if necessary.
“The casinos used to be the best job in the hospitality industry and we are continuing to fight to make sure that that is the case,” Winston said. “And I just cannot imagine that we are here today just asking for the basic demands from these employers who we helped keep afloat for two and a half decades.”
Winston said the workers are also concerned about the increased use of technology in their jobs, such as self-service kiosks and mobile apps. She said the workers want to have a say in how these changes affect their workloads and job security.
“We want to make sure that technology is not replacing our jobs,” Winston said. “We want to make sure that technology is enhancing our jobs.”
The workers have received support from other unions and community groups, such as the Detroit Metro AFL-CIO, the Michigan State AFL-CIO, and the NAACP Detroit Branch. They have also launched an online petition calling on the casinos to respect their workers and meet their demands.
The potential strike could have a significant impact on the city’s economy and tourism industry. The three casinos generate about $600 million in annual tax revenue for the city and state. They also attract millions of visitors every year who spend money on hotels, restaurants, entertainment, and other businesses.