Detroit Casino Workers Share Stories Of Healthcare Worries As Strike Looms

Written By Drew Ellis on October 16, 2023 - Last Updated on October 24, 2023
Photo of Detroit casino workers preparing to strike over various issues, including healthcare

Detroit casino workers could be set to strike as soon at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday night and healthcare is a core demand.

While certainly better wages are at the forefront of contract negotiations, many of the union members are looking to secure their health care and get improvements in work demands.

At a press conference on Thursday attended by PlayMichigan, they told their personal stories of what they have dealt with in recent years and why they are willing to strike to get their way.


Maintaining health care standards a high priority

Shataya Thompson

The biggest message given by the union workers was the importance of their health care.

The Detroit Casino Council says the three Detroit casinos – MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino and Hollywood Casino at Greektown – are asking for employees to provide a larger amount for healthcare coverage.

That is a great concern for Shataya Thompson, a 14-year employee of MotorCity Casino that currently works as a valet cashier.

During the pandemic, her son was hospitalized for months and she is now expecting another child.

“As everyone knows, inflation is at an all-time high. So, with the cost of living as a wife, and a mother of two and one on the way, I want what’s best for my family. My health care is very important,” Thompson said.

“During the pandemic, my son was in the hospital for 203 days. So, maintaining and keeping my healthcare is what is important to me and what I am fighting for.”

Impact of pandemic still lingers for workers

Healthcare is a major negotiating point for the union workers. This comes after helping the casinos get through the difficult pandemic years. Workers say during the pandemic they were subject to greater health risks on the job.

“We are the workers that made financial sacrifices and extended our contract so that the casinos could weather the storm during the pandemic,” said Jamil Johnson, a 16-year employee of the MGM Grand Detroit. “I caught COVID twice while working at the MGM Grand. I was hospitalized for three weeks. My wife nor my family and friends were able to visit me while I laid in the hospital not knowing if I was seeing my loved ones again. And that was terrifying to me.

“The one thing that kept me safe was the fact that our union had negotiated for us substantial health care that I would have the ability to take care of my family while being hospitalized. Unfortunately, the casinos are trying to take that away from us right now.”

UAW 7777 President Terry Sykes is a two-time cancer survivor. As an employee at Motor City Casino, she suffered a lot of mental anguish when working through the pandemic.

“During COVID I was petrified,” Sykes said. “I’m sure everyone remembers when they were talking about people with prior (medical) issues being more susceptible to catching COVID, well I was one of those people. Every time I walked into Motor City Casino during that time, I basically had panic attacks, due to that unknown if I was one of those that would catch COVID.

“My family members, my friends, my co-workers, some died from COVID. But again, we helped these (casinos) get through COVID. All we’re asking for in this contract is our fair share.”

Workers being stretched thin

Milledge McCaster

Many of the casino workers also feel they are being stretched thin.

According to the DCC, there are 1,500 fewer union jobs at the three Detroit casinos than prior to the pandemic.

However, that doesn’t mean the jobs are getting done and the workers feel it as the expense of their time.

“When I started at Greektown in 2009, we had over 2,500 employees,” said Milledge McCaster, a 14-year engineer at Hollywood Casino at Greektown. “Now we currently sit at 1,100.

“That means that employees are working overtime. We’re not able to take the time to be with our families, especially on special days. We are trying to get a contract that’s fair to the employees. Wages are very important, but we definitely need a better work/life balance.”

That sentiment was also felt in the terms of the wage increase. Many of the union workers are working a second job on top of their casino employment to make ends meet.

“I would love to be able to attend my granddaughter’s dance recital on Saturday morning, or perhaps my grandson’s soccer game. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do that because I have to work two jobs,” Johnson said.

Casinos staying on-message for negotiations

The Detroit Casino Council said negotiations were still far apart as of last Thursday.

The casinos themselves have not offered much of an update other than they are committed to a mutually beneficial agreement.

“Hollywood Casino at Greektown has had a productive and respectful relationship with the Detroit Casino Counsel for many years,” Jeff Morris, Vice President of Public Affairs for PENN Entertainment, said in a statement. “We are committed to continue working constructively to develop a mutually beneficial agreement that positively positions our Team Members and business for success well into the future.”

Should the union workers elect to strike, the casinos have given no indication that they will close. It is unclear what would be operational, since casino workers need to be licensed by the Michigan Gaming Control Board.

Strike could cost city of Detroit $452,0000 per day in tax revenue

PlayMichigan will stay updated on this potential strike as more develops.

Photo by Drew Ellis / PlayMichigan
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is currently the Lead Writer of He was the former Lead Writer of PlayMichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

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