Detroit casino workers strike over wages, health benefits

By David Rosenfeld
November 6, 2023
Hundreds of strikers from Detroit’s three big casinos march through the city Oct. 19. The 3,700 workers on strike are demanding higher wages, protection of health care benefits.
Militant/David RosenfeldHundreds of strikers from Detroit’s three big casinos march through the city Oct. 19. The 3,700 workers on strike are demanding higher wages, protection of health care benefits.

DETROIT — “Strike City! Detroit is Strike City!” The chant echoed through Hart Plaza here as hundreds of strikers from Detroit’s three big casinos, their family members and other unionists rallied Oct. 19, the third day of their walkout. The casino workers were joining ongoing strikes at the Big Three automakers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and three nursing homes in the metro area.

Two spirited marches, one beginning at the MGM Grand Detroit Casino and the other at Blue Cross Blue Shield, made their way through city streets to converge in the city center on a rainy, windy afternoon.

Some 3,700 workers are on strike at MGM Grand Casino, MotorCity Casino and Hollywood Casino at Greektown. Strikers sported United Auto Workers  rain ponchos they had gotten and wrapped their picket signs in clear plastic bags to protect them. One of the picket leaders shouted through her megaphone, “No rain is gonna slow us down!”

The striking casino workers are represented by the Detroit Casino Council, which is made up of the five unions representing the casino workers: UNITE HERE Local 24, Teamsters Local 1038, the United Auto Workers, Operating Engineers Local 324 and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters. The UAW also represents the more than 1,000 Blue Cross Blue Shield workers who walked off the job more than a month ago statewide.

Casino workers are fighting for higher wages, protection of health care benefits and job security.

“I am a two-time survivor of breast cancer,” Terri Sykes told the rally. She has worked at MotorCity Casino for 24 years as a dealer. “Health insurance was necessary to get through my battle with breast cancer. Now the company wants to take some of our health care away.”

Many workers say that wages are not keeping up with inflation. In September 2020 the unions agreed to a three-year contract extension with a minimal wage increase. Officials said this was to help get the casinos back on their feet after COVID-19 shutdowns. Now the casinos are profitable, but the workforce has been cut by 1,500 workers, leading to dangerous speedup on the job. Some recently hired workers said they make only $16.50 per hour.

“I have not had a raise in eight years,” Kalesia Savage, a VIP server, said. “For me, this strike is about fair wages and everyone sticking together.”

Margaret Mock, the international secretary-treasurer of the UAW and lead negotiator in the Blue Cross Blue Shield strike, said a big issue in their strike is tiered wages and benefits. “The company wants to get us to agree to taking 20 years to get to top pay!” she said.

The rally was addressed by AFL-CIO National President Liz Shuler, other national union officials, and Detroit and Michigan politicians.

The casino bosses are keeping the casinos open during the strike, using management and other scab labor. “Don’t stay! Don’t play!” pickets can be heard chanting outside the casinos, calling on fellow working people to not cross their picket lines.

The UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Union Local 226 in Las Vegas voted 95% to authorize a strike against 18 hotels, part of MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Corporation and Wynn Resorts. The union represents 53,000 workers in Las Vegas. They haven’t gone on strike yet because they’re still negotiating.

The union announced plans for a large protest Oct. 25.