On the Picket Line

British Columbia: Hard Rock Casino strikers win solidarity

By Katy LeRougetel
July 30, 2018

COQUITLAM, British Columbia — Some 400 members of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees’ Union, who have been on strike since May 11, voted by a 55 percent margin July 4 to reject a new proposal by Hard Rock Casino bosses.

Dealers, kitchen and theater staff, security and other workers there voted to join the union in May 2016, and have been fighting for their first contract ever since. Picket lines are up 24/7.

This reporter and another Walmart cashier walked the line in solidarity July 3. Many strikers asked, “Do you have a union at Walmart? Are you going to get one?” We’re on your picket line to learn, we’re finding ways to stand up, we replied.

“You don’t have to be in a union to stand up,” Laarni de los Reyes, a union organizer, said. “Once you start to get together and feel what power is, then you feel what it means to be a union.”

“Gambling makes a lot of money. But they pay workers s—, like Walmart,” dealer Ying Li said. “I’ve worked here for 13 years. No raise for 10 years.” She has topped out at $14 an hour.

Dealers make some money on tips, but those are not folded into the base rate and aren’t a stable source of income, workers on the picket line told us. Table games staff make up more than half the union membership.

The casino bosses’ offer that the majority of workers rejected included up to 50 cents increase, subsequent yearly 2 percent raises, a signing bonus, benefits like those recently won at River Rock Casino, and eight-hour shifts, Mike Dove, bargaining committee chair, told the Militant. “But then the [management] took out the craps and poker games and that changed the wage grid entirely. Sixty people would take a pay cut. And there will be layoffs.”

Almost 700 more union members at four casinos in British Columbia’s Okanagan region went on strike June 29 around demands for higher wages and regular shifts.

On hearing the news during her picket shift here the next day, Vicky Burnell, a table games worker with 14 years on the job, said, “The more we are the stronger we are. That’s what I’ve learned. I’ve always stood up for myself, but now I’m standing up with a group. I’m having fun.”