About 3,700 workers employed in food and beverage, dealing, housekeeping, valet, and other fields at Detroit’s three casinos have gone on strike today to fight for wage and benefits improvements following what they call years of sacrifices made to help the industry stay afloat during the pandemic.
Employees from MGM Grand Detroit, Hollywood at Greektown (formerly Greektown Casino-Hotel), and MotorCity Casino began picketing outside of each site at noon, according to a media alert issued Tuesday by the Detroit Casino Council. The negotiating committee for the council — a cohort made up of members of UNITE HERE Local 24, the United Auto Workers, Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324, and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters — has spent more than 160 hours in negotiations since summer. Last month, 99 percent of union members voted in favor of authorizing a strike if an agreement could not be reached by the expiration of the current contract.
Negotiations with management fell apart just hours before contracts were set to expire on Tuesday. Union members worked all night Monday in an attempt to avert a strike, but late Tuesday morning, the unions rejected the casinos’ final proposal. Union members say that management failed to meet demands including protecting healthcare, job security as it relates to the use of new technologies that have been implemented in casinos that could impact job security, improving the value of retirement benefits, reducing the high workloads that were taken on when the local industry’s workforce shrank by 1,500 after the pandemic, and securing wage increases to make up for raises sacrificed during the global health crisis. The Detroit Casino Council had previously agreed in September 2020 to a three-year contract extension, which included 3 percent wage increases.
“Making the decision to strike is never easy, but it’s past time for the workers who keep Detroit’s casinos running to get their fair share,” said Nia Winston, President of UNITE HERE Local 24, the union of hospitality workers in Detroit, in a written statement issued Tuesday. “The city’s big three casino operators are earning more than ever, and we’re prepared to stay out on strike until we get what we deserve.”
According to the council, gaming revenues have surpassed pre-pandemic levels to reach a new record high, with the Detroit casino sector generating $2.27 billion in gaming revenue in 2022. The city’s three Detroit casinos collectively reported $813 million more in total gaming revenues in 2022 than in 2019, yet wages paid to union workers were $34 million less during that same period. The council went on to share that each day of a strike could put an estimated $738,000 in city and state tax revenues and $3.4 million in casino operator revenues at risk. The wagering tax is the second highest revenue source of revenue for the city of Detroit, which surpasses property taxes. Voters approved the legalization of casino gaming in 1996.
Eater has reached out to the three casinos for comment and will provide updates as they become available. In a written statement from Jeff Morris, vice president of public affairs for Penn Entertainment, the company that operates the Hollywood Casino at Greektown, said that the casino plans to continue to be open for business during the strike.
“We are disappointed by the decision of the Detroit Casino Council as we have made generous, progressive settlement offers that position our team members and business for sustainable success. We will remain open for business to serve our customers and are committed to continued good-faith bargaining with the Detroit Casino Council to resolve the issues at hand as soon as possible,” read the statement.
Matt Buckley, president and chief operating officer of MGM Resorts’ Midwest Group, which oversees MGM Grand Detroit, said in an October 17 letter addressed to employees obtained by Eater that the casino plans to fill shifts to continue operating.
“We intend to continue to operate our business during any potential strike and will remain open this week and beyond. 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 providing our customers with entertainment and service,” the statement reads.
A written statement from a Motor City Casino spokesperson said that the company also plans for the location to remain open during the strike.
“While significant progress has been made, we have not yet reached an agreement with the Detroit Casino Council. We remain committed to bargaining in good faith and achieving a contract that is fair to our employees and allows our company to remain competitive in our industry. As we work to resolve the open issues, we will remain open to serve our guests.”
Update: October 17, 2023, 2:10 p.m.: This article was updated to include comments from representatives of Hollywood Casino at Greektown, MGM Resorts, and Motor City Casino.