ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Casino workers from Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Detroit and Connecticut joined together today in a new Gaming Workers Council, with a broad organizing, bargaining and communications agenda.
"We're excited," said Sharon Masino, a casino dealer at Caesars in Atlantic City and a member of the UAW/AC Dealers Union. "With everybody joining together, we'll be stronger than ever. We're going to win good contracts in Atlantic City and move on to help casino workers all over the country."
The new Gaming Workers Council will bring together the UAW, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Gaming Division, SEIU and the AFL-CIO, and will reach out to other partners to support a common agenda on behalf of workers in the casino industry.
The council's first order of business will be support for ongoing contract campaigns for casino dealers in Atlantic City. The council will also assist bargaining efforts on behalf of casino workers in Las Vegas, Indiana, Connecticut and elsewhere who have voted to form their own unions and are fighting to win first contracts; reach out to hundreds of thousands of unorganized casino workers; and communicate information about working conditions in the gaming industry to union members, the public, elected officials, casino regulators and investors.
"Our unity and the actions we are launching today will add new power to gaming workers who are courageously pursuing their dreams," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "We will be stepping up our efforts to ensure that these gaming workers receive the contract they deserve -- and they shouldn't have to wait another day."
Two years ago, 80 percent of casino dealers at Caesars in Atlantic City voted in favor of UAW representation. Full- and part-time dealers and slot techs at Tropicana, Trump Plaza and Bally's have also voted to form their own unions, but casino operators have either refused to bargain or stalled the negotiating process.
"This is about workers," said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn. "It's about workers who have had their hours reduced, who are paying more for health care, who have lost their seniority rights, and who have been shut out at the bargaining table by casino executives who make millions of dollars a year."
Within the last two years, casino dealers at Wynn and Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas have voted for TWU by an overwhelming margin after management tried to grab their tip money and cut their pensions and other benefits, but casino executives there have also failed to meet their responsibilities to bargain fairly with workers.
"The casinos we are dealing with were once Nevada-only businesses but today are national and multinational in their reach," said TWU Executive Vice President Harry Lombardo. "If we are to best represent workers in the gaming industry, unions need to take a national, and perhaps global, approach and that is exactly what we are doing today."
"I can tell you first-hand: A good contract for workers and a successful casino go hand in hand," said Tina Phillips, a back of the house banker at MGM Grand in Detroit and chair of the MGM Grand bargaining unit of UAW Local 7777. "We negotiated our first contract in 2000, and two more since then, with good pay, a grievance procedure, and secure benefits. Our casinos in Detroit have actually increased revenue this year. Having a union contract works for us -- and I'm sure it will work in Atlantic City and Las Vegas as well."
"When we organized, our employer said the same thing the casinos are saying in Atlantic City and Las Vegas -- you'll never get a contract," said John Delmonte, a member of UAW at Foxwoods and a dealer at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, the largest casino in the United States. "Our casino had a different twist. They're tribally owned and they said that U.S. labor law didn't apply to them.
"But our members stuck together, and we have reached an agreement that we believe will respect tribal sovereignty and also protect workers' rights. Our bargaining committee is meeting with casino management and making progress. If Foxwoods can come to the table, so can the casino operators in Atlantic City and Las Vegas."
"Let there be no misunderstanding. We stand side by side with the women and men who have formed their own unions to ensure the gaming industry hears their voices and does right by them," said SEIU President Andy Stern. "We hope the power of persuasion will bring the casinos to the bargaining table, but if it takes the persuasion of power to bring these workers justice, we will be by their side."