Detroit Casino Workers Go On Strike: Everything You Need to Know – Updated November 15

Arsenii Anderson
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Detroit Casino Workers Strike 2023

According to the unions that represent the workers, around noon on October 17, almost 3,700 employees of Detroit’s three casinos walked off their jobs and went on strike after new contract negotiations failed to reach their expectations. Did the casinos in Detroit go on strike? What do workers want?

Here’s everything you need to know about the Detroit casinos strike of 2023, whether you are new to the situation at hand, or want a casino strike Detroit update.

The Precursors of Detroit Casino Workers Strike

Let’s start with the basics of the casino strike in Detroit. The first strike in the organization’s history was called by the Detroit Casino Council (DCC) after discussions that started in the summer ended without a new standard for contracts. The workers want reduced workloads, greater healthcare benefits, and retirement benefits in addition to higher earnings that keep up with inflation.

According to Gwen Mills, Secretary-Treasurer of Unite Here, one of the unions engaging in discussions, the employees accepted almost flat pay during the pandemic and now want to reap the rewards of the success that the casinos are enjoying.

Organizations Supporting the Casino Strike in Detroit

On September 29, 99% of voting employees from all union groups at the three casinos in Detroit approved the DCC’s right to initiate a strike if talks didn’t go well.

Five unions, including Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324, Unite Here Local 24, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters, together represent 3,700 casino workers on the DCC negotiating committee.

According to the committee, the strike may cost operators $3.4 million in total daily revenue, with MGM Grand Detroit suffering the biggest hit at $1.7 million.

According to the Detroit Casino Council, casino employees have been working under a three-year extension to a five-year contract since 2015. In 2020, they accepted minimum wage increases owing to the pandemic’s effects on profitability. But the organization said that although local inflation has increased by 20% since 2020, Detroit casino employees have only seen a 3% increase.

Statements From Detroit Casinos

In a statement, MGM said that it would go on with business as usual. The new offer from MGM Grand Detroit offers the single-largest salary rise in the company’s history, according to MGM, which claimed to have made six proposals to the union. The business will continue to provide employment, and if unionized workers want to join the strike, the business will take whatever legal measures are required to fill open positions.

Requests for feedback from MotorCity and PENN Entertainment were not immediately fulfilled.

Then, Hollywood Casino at Greektown expressed its disappointment with the Detroit Casino Council’s decision in a statement to CNBC, noting that the company had offered significant, progressive settlement proposals that would have helped the team members and the company achieve long-term success. Management promises that it will continue to be open for business.

FanDuel, which runs the FD Sportsbook in partnership with MotorCity, informed CNBC that it would be closed with the exception of a non-union MCC employee monitoring the cash at the counter for customers wanting to cash in tickets in accordance with Michigan legal regulations.

Detroit Casino Strike Timeline – Updated November 15, 2023

Let’s now look at the timeline of the events surrounding the Detroit casino strike of 2023. It will be updated throughout the course of the workers’ strike.

September 2023

The negotiations for pay increases, retirement security, and safeguards against technology adoption between the three Detroit casinos and worker unions began.

September 29

Detroit casino workers had a vote to go on strike, which succeeded with 99% votes. This authorized Teamsters Local 1038 and four unions that together represent more than 3,500 workers the right to go on strike in the event that the Detroit casinos fail to provide fair contracts by the deadline of October 16.

October 17

After failing to reach an agreement by the deadline of October 16, negotiators for the three casinos and unions representing 3,700 workers began to press for higher pay from dealers, valets, housekeepers, and food and beverage staff. The contract was supposed to expire 12 hours earlier, but as negotiations went on, it was extended by half a day. Thus began the Detroit casino workers’ strike. After the strike started, casinos made their above-mentioned statements on the matter.

October 19

Detroit casino strike update – unions remain on strike. The strike has expanded into a wider campaign, as health insurance and auto workers were also on strike. A combination of labor organizations, including the United Auto Workers, the Teamsters, the Michigan AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Unite Here, SEIU Michigan, and others, sponsored the event, which was billed as Detroit’s March for Workers’ Rights and Economic Justice. Workers marched from beginning sites near the Hollywood Casino in Greektown and the MGM Grand Detroit.

October 22

Players are crossing the border to play live poker as the poker rooms at MGM Grand Detroit and MotorCity Casino are now shut down due to staffing shortages caused by the strike. Due to the shuttered poker rooms in Detroit, Caesars Windsor’s poker room may be witnessing an increase in activity. Caesars Windsor is just five miles away from MGM Grand Detroit.

October 24

In an effort to garner support, the casino employees on strike are scheduled to visit Detroit’s City Council on Tuesday morning at 10 AM, requesting an official endorsement for their ongoing strike. Comprising the Detroit Casino Council, the five unions involved in the strike will extend their picketing activities to both the City Council chambers and the Spirit of Detroit monument. This move aims to bolster their campaign for a new contract that aligns with their demands.

October 25

On Tuesday, the Detroit Casino Council made a strong appeal to the Detroit City Council, seeking backing for their ongoing strike campaign. The city council chambers were filled to capacity with union workers currently on strike, who passionately conveyed their cause to the council members.

In a show of solidarity, the Detroit City Council responded by offering their support and encouraging the workers to persevere. A resolution was put forth to endorse the workers’ efforts, and it received unanimous approval from the council.

October 26

As the strike enters its second week, we now have a clearer picture of the daily revenue losses incurred by the three casinos. Before the strike, these casinos were averaging approximately $3.5 million in daily revenue for the year 2023. With union workers comprising roughly 75% of the 4,900-strong Detroit casino workforce, this puts a significant strain on the casinos.

Insider sources close to the casinos have indicated that they are currently operating at around 50% of their normal capacity due to the reduced staff, resulting in collective daily revenue losses ranging from $1.5 million to $2.5 million. Consequently, the state of Michigan could be seeing a potential daily reduction of around $200,000 in tax revenue, while the city of Detroit might be facing a shortfall of approximately $300,000 per day in tax revenue.

October 27

The rise of online casinos in Michigan is significantly impacting the Detroit casino strike. Although the three casinos remain open, they’re facing a roughly 50% decline in business, resulting in daily losses of $1.5 million to $2.5 million. Notably, two of these casinos, MGM Grand Detroit and Hollywood Casino at Greektown, operate online platforms like BetMGM and Barstool Sportsbook (soon to be ESPN Bet), which can help offset their losses.

Given their online revenue streams, these casino companies may not be in a rush to resolve the strike, potentially giving them leverage during negotiations. While we don’t imply this is their intention, boosting online casino operations could enhance profitability, considering the high costs of running physical casinos.

October 29

The United Auto Workers (UAW) were the first of three Detroit industry groups to go on strike, and they’re now making progress in their efforts. Recently, the UAW reached a tentative four-year contract agreement with Ford, pending approval from union members. This development comes after nearly six weeks of strikes involving Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. The tentative deal with Ford could pave the way for agreements with the other two automakers. Although the agreement is still tentative, the UAW has called on its members to return to work at Ford, aiming to exert pressure on the remaining automakers.

In the first week of the casino workers’ strike, they joined forces with striking auto workers and health insurance workers for a solidarity march in downtown Detroit, aptly named “Detroit’s March for Workers’ Rights and Economic Justice.”

October 30

As the Detroit Lions welcome the Las Vegas Raiders for Monday Night Football, the city of Detroit is poised to see an influx of tourists tonight. Coinciding with this event, the casino workers are planning a significant presence, aiming to dissuade incoming visitors from crossing the picket lines. Demonstrating their support for the local team, the strikers will don Lions gear and simultaneously host a BBQ, all while steadfastly advocating for a favorable new contract with the three Detroit casinos.

November 1

Wednesday marked a pivotal moment in the ongoing casino workers’ strike, as union members and the hotel management convened for a bargaining session in hopes of negotiating terms for the workers’ return. Preceding this, on Tuesday, a delegation of strikers visited the state capitol to solicit support from lawmakers. A contingent of over 300 workers converged on Lansing, seeking solidarity from political leaders on the picket lines and advocating for Detroit’s autonomy to increase its minimum wage through the repeal of the contentious “Death Star” bill, SB171. This legislation, aimed at revoking local governments’ authority over labor and employment policies, had advanced through the Senate Labor Committee in September.

November 3

Detroit casino workers, engaged in their ongoing strike, have been buoyed by uplifting endorsements from afar, as local unions across state lines stand in camaraderie. UNITE HERE Local 26, representing Rhode Island and Massachusetts, showed their alliance visually, with members taking photographs while at work, brandishing signs that declare “Solidarity With Detroit Casino Workers On Strike.” This sentiment is echoed by the Culinary Workers Union 226 of Las Vegas, who are themselves embroiled in contract negotiations. Should they not reach an agreement, they are poised to strike on Friday, Nov. 10. This union is a significant force, representing 35,000 hotel and casino workers in the Las Vegas area.

November 7

On Tuesday, striking casino workers in Detroit reconvened at city hall, advocating for a “Detroit Strikers Bill of Rights.” This proposal aims to safeguard the health and safety of picketers, especially as temperatures fall. During the City Council meeting, these workers shared personal accounts and introduced their bill of rights, which includes specific provisions for maintaining their safety. Key among these provisions is the right to move freely and to adopt measures for staying warm, such as using propane heaters and controlled fires during their picketing activities.

November 9

For the first time since the commencement of the Detroit casino workers’ strike on October 17, details have emerged regarding the demands of the union workers. Leaked communications reveal the current offers from the casinos, shedding light on the negotiations.

Initially, the Detroit casinos proposed reducing health care payments from $60 to $40, while the union aims to bring this cost down to $0. Regarding wages, the casinos have offered an increase of $1.95 per hour in the first year of the new contract, but the union is advocating for a $3.25 per hour raise. Despite these proposals, the union has indicated that discussions on critical economic issues are still evolving, with bargaining sessions continuing.

November 10

Just before the deadline, a potential labor strike in Las Vegas was averted when the union reached agreements with Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, and Wynn Resorts, benefiting over 35,000 members of the Culinary Workers and Bartenders Unions. While talks are still ongoing with Hilton properties, where union workers are under a temporary contract extension, this development added urgency for MGM Resorts, which is concurrently addressing a worker strike at the MGM Grand Detroit in Michigan.

November 11

The ongoing strike by Detroit casino workers has led the Detroit Casino Council to urge a boycott of online casinos and sportsbooks linked to the city’s three major casinos. These include BetMGM associated with MGM Grand Detroit, FanDuel with MotorCity Casino, and Barstool with Hollywood Casino at Greektown.

In the midst of these developments, ESPN Bet is poised to take over from Barstool Sportsbook, and Hollywood Casino online will soon replace the Barstool casino. While the Detroit casinos derive a limited portion of their revenue from these online platforms, any significant impact on the online operations might compel the parent companies, MGM Resorts International and PENN Entertainment, to respond. MGM Resorts International is the owner of both BetMGM and MGM Grand Detroit, whereas PENN Entertainment holds Hollywood Casino at Greektown and the emerging ESPN BET.

November 14

The impact of the strike on the revenue of Detroit’s three casinos has been revealed in the latest report. The Michigan Gaming Control Board announced that October’s revenue for slots and table games was $81.7 million, marking the lowest monthly gaming revenue since December 2020, when the casinos were largely closed due to the pandemic.

This figure represents a 19% decrease from October 2022’s revenue of $100.8 million, resulting in a loss of $3.9 million in state and city tax revenue compared to the previous year. Additionally, the retail sports betting handle dropped by 23% to $18.1 million in October, with revenue from retail sports betting falling 46.9% from $2.1 million in October 2022 to $1.1 million last month.

Detroit’s March for Workers’ Rights and Economic Justice

Detroit was called “strike city”, as thousands of union workers went on strike demanding fair pay and the respect they deserved. We’ve already mentioned quite a lot of issues that forced casino workers to go on strike. The tier system was mentioned as one of the key concerns that needed to be addressed during contract talks by the workers at the event.

Electrician Steve Volgyi, who has worked for Blue Cross for more than 25 years, said he wants to see changes made for his colleagues who were recruited later and don’t get the same benefits and pay as he does. Volgyi said that he too would want the cost-of-living subsidy. However, his major battle is to ensure worker equality.

Workers just want to see respect, according to Maurice Starr, a lower-ranking Blue Cross employee. They have put forth a lot of effort and made a lot of sacrifices for the company throughout the epidemic. Starr said that gaining higher retirement benefits is another issue that worries him. However, he said that this strike is about more than simply one contract.

Anyone who is interested in this movement, he continued, should be aware that it is not just about one company, as this battle affects all Americans.

According to BCBS of Michigan, Blue Cross has put backup plans in place to allow the organization to continue serving physicians, group clients, and millions of members throughout the country. There may be greater wait periods for some of those services, especially those delivered over the phone.

This event took place on day 35 of the UAW’s historic strike against all three Detroit manufacturers. There are now 34,000 autoworkers on strike.

FAQ

Did Detroit casinos go on strike?

Yes, they have, alongside union workers from the health insurance and automotive industries.

How long will the Detroit casino workers’ strike last?

It is currently too early to predict, but, considering the number of workers currently on strike, it is unlikely to end without a favorable outcome for the unions. It is up to the companies employing these workers.

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