Detroit Workers, Casinos ‘Still Too Far Apart’ As Strike Deadline Nears

Written By Drew Ellis on October 12, 2023 - Last Updated on October 24, 2023
Photo of Detroit casino workers present at a news conference Thursday where union reps said they're still too far apart in order to prevent a strike

Detroit casino workers are still far apart on a new contract with the three retail casinos with the contract set to expire on Monday night.

On Thursday, members of the Detroit Casino Council, who are negotiating a new contract for five unions, spoke on the status of the new contract at the Teamsters Union Hall in Detroit.

Their message was clear – give us a new deal that meets our requests, or we will go on strike.

DETROIT CASINO STRIKE UPDATES AS THEY BREAK:

Five unions prepared to strike at Detroit’s casinos

Nia Winston

The Detroit Casino Council represents a total of 3,700 individuals that work at one of the three Detroit casinos – the MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino and Hollywood Casino at Greektown.

Unions represented by the DCC include:

  • UNITE HERE Local 24
  • UAW
  • Teamsters Local 1038
  • Operating Engineers Local 324
  • Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters

In a vote held on Sept. 29, 99% of the union workers voted “yes” to authorize a strike if a new deal was not reached by Oct. 16.

“Now that we are five days away from this contract expiring, our goal is to reach a fair deal. But unfortunately, we’re still too far apart,” said Nia Winston, President of the Unite Here Local 24 in Michigan and Ohio, on Thursday. “We need the companies to do better. And if they cannot, then we are prepared to strike if necessary.”

The current contract will expire on Monday at 11:59 p.m.

What the DCC is negotiating for in new contract

The DCC is focused on five core bargaining issues for their new contract.

Increased wages

The union is seeking wage increases for its workers to keep up with the rising cost of living.

They cite a single adult with a school-aged child would need $2,779 per month for housing, food and transportation. They say a newly hired hotel housekeeper with full-time hours currently has a pre-tax income of $2,454 per month.

A talking point for the DCC was that in 2022 the Detroit casino industry generated $2.27 billion in gaming revenue, the highest mark in the industry’s history. That is $813 million more than the revenue it recorded in 2019 before the pandemic.

However, total wagers paid to workers in the DCC were $34 million less than they were in 2019. All the while, Detroit collected $57 million more in tax revenue in 2022 than it did in 2019.

“The City of Detroit got $57 million more in 2022, than before the pandemics from the casinos. But Detroit casino workers are paid $34 million less. As someone who used to work at one of these casinos, I take this personally,” Winston said. “Our wages have not kept up with the pace of inflation, which has jumped up 20% in Detroit since the beginning of the pandemic, and our wages have gone down 3%.”

In 2022, the Michigan Gaming Control Board reported that the three Detroit casinos drew $1.26 billion in revenue through retail slots and table games. They also collected $19.1 million in revenue from retail sports betting.

Collectively, the online operators attached to the three Detroit casinos (BetMGM, FanDuel and PENN Entertainment) generated $1.18 billion in 2022 through online casino and online sports betting revenue.

It is unclear just how much of that online revenue the three casinos receive in their respective agreements with each operator.

Healthcare

The DCC says the Detroit casinos are asking the workers to pay more for healthcare with this current deal expiring.

That was a major focal point of Thursday’s press conference. The union workers pointed out that many of them sacrificed their health by working through the COVID-19 pandemic. The lasting impact of the pandemic has also made health care a greater necessity for the workers.

“Health care is one of the main things that our members asked us to try and keep the intact,” said Terry Sykes, UAW Local 7777 President. “I completely understand this, because myself as a two-time breast cancer survivor, needs my healthcare. Some of our members have been in this industry for 24 years. A lot of us are getting older, a lot of us need this health care now more than ever. So, for the companies now to say is they want to make us pay more into our healthcare is totally unfair.”

Improved retirement

The union workers are also seeking greater contributions from the casinos to their 401K plans.

They cite MotorCity Casino being owned by the Ilitch family, owners of Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers. Marian Illitch’s net worth is estimated at over $4 billion alone.

MGM Grand is owned by MGM Resorts International, while Hollywood Casino at Greektown is operated by PENN Entertainment. Recently, MGM Resorts reported an all-time record for company-wide net revenues in its 2023 Q2.

Workload reductions

Milledge McCaster

Detroit’s casinos have 1,500 fewer union jobs now than they did prior to the pandemic.

The DCC feels those that are currently working are having to do the jobs of two or more people.

Milledge McCaster has worked in the engineering department at Hollywood Casino at Greektown for 14 years. He said Thursday that many union workers are being pushed to do too much.

“When I started at Greektown in 2009, we had over 2,500 employees. Now we currently sit at 1,100,” he said. “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.”

Technology and job security

With new technology being introduced to the state’s gambling industry, the DCC wants assurance that they will have a seat at the table when new advancements are implemented.

“We understand that new technology is necessary to stay competitive in our industry. We only ask that the casinos partner with us in the implementation of this new tech so that we can make sure that the tech works works well for the workers, as well as the casinos,” said Jamil Johnson, a 16-year worker at the MGM Grand Detroit, currently part of the D.PRIME Steakhouse.

Negotiations to continue throughout the weekend

Though the DCC says the negotiations are far apart, they are continuing to meet with casino reps prior to Monday’s deadline.

“We are continuing to bargain in good faith,” Winston said. “We’re at the bargaining table (Thursday). Again, our contract expires on next Monday evening at 11:59 p.m. We will continue to come to the table every day, seriously, with the demands of our membership. Again, the goal is to reach a bigger contract that’s amenable to our membership. So we’re committed to doing that.”

PlayMichigan will continue to provide updates on this situation as new developments occur.

Photo by Drew Ellis
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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is the 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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