Detroit Casino Workers Strike After Failed Negotiations

DETROIT - NOVEMBER 19:  A dealer hands out chips at a table at a casino November 19, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan. With the Detroit auto manufactures in decline, the gaming industry is one of the few large-scale employers left in the beleaguered city. Michigan's unemployment rate in October rose to 9.3 percent, a 16-year high.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

OAN’s Stephanie Stahl
12:37 PM – Thursday, October 19, 2023

In recent months, U.S. workers in various industries have been standing up across the country, seeking better wages, retirement, and healthcare, among other benefits. Thousands of Detroit-based casino employees are now the latest to join the picket lines, voicing that the industry is “long overdue” for pay raises.


On Tuesday, an estimated 3,700 casino workers walked off the job after negotiations between three Detroit casinos and the worker unions failed to meet the deadline for a new labor agreement. 

The Detroit casinos involved are MGM Grand, MotorCity, and Hollywood Casino at Greektown.

The strike was also the first of its kind since the casinos initally opened in the late 1990s and 2000. 

Casino workers are reportedly asking for higher wages to “keep up with inflation and the rising cost of living.” They’re also seeking more benefits, better healthcare, and better working conditions.

On the employee benefits front, the unions maintain that casino management is pushing for workers to pay significantly more for health care, which they are strongly opposed to.

Jamil Johnson, a 16-year employee at MGM Grand Detroit, spoke to reporters and expressed disappointment that the failed agreement led to a strike. The Detroit resident is a server at a steakhouse in the casino and says he makes about $14 an hour, including tips. 

“I feel disrespected. And that’s how a lot of my coworkers feel because we really did sacrifice a lot. During shift change you see a lot of workers walking out limping. This is hard work,” Johnson said. 

Johnson reported how he contracted COVID-19 two separate times and was forced to spend three weeks in the hospital. He emphasized the importance of health care benefits for employees to rely on during times of sickness.

Striking employees hold various positions within the casinos, such as dealers, cleaning staff, food and beverage, valets, and engineers. These workers are collectively represented by the Detroit Casino Council, a coalition of five unions that includes the United Auto Workers (UAW).

Johanna Lams, who works at MGM Grand Detroit and is a local UAW chairperson, said that the company is not offering its employees anything that is “even close to fair.”

“You’ve got people here working at MGM who don’t even make enough to have apartments. They are sleeping in their cars,” Lams continued. 

The casino workers had been operating under a 3-year extension to a 5-year contract, which expired on Tuesday.

In 2020, the casino council had consented to minimal wage increases – a cumulative 3% raise over three years – as a measure to support the casinos during the COVID-19 pandemic and government-imposed shutdowns.

Nia Winston, president of Unite Here Local 24, said that the city’s three largest casino operators were earning more than ever after the pandemic. Winston warned that workers are prepared to stay out on strike until they get what they rightfully deserve.

Throughout the strike and ongoing picket lines on Tuesday, all three casinos remained open and operational.

In a statement, Penn Entertainment, which owns Hollywood Casino at Greektown, said that the facility will continue to stay open despite the strike’s impact on its operations.

“We will continue to welcome guests to play their favorite slots and tables or have a bite to eat in our food court. However, there will be temporary disruptions to valet and à la carte restaurants,” said Jeff Morris, vice president of public affairs for Penn Entertainment. 

Officials with the three casinos contend that they are committed to reaching a fair contract. 

On Tuesday, Matt Buckley, the president and chief operating officer of MGM Resorts Midwest Group, sent a letter to employees that said MGM Grand Detroit would continue to operate and “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,” Buckley wrote.

The company has reportedly made six proposals to the union, according to Buckley. This includes the current offer with “the single largest pay increase in the history of MGM Grand Detroit.” 

“We will continue to negotiate with the union to reach an agreement that is good for all parties,” Buckley continued.

Meghan Cohorst, a spokesperson for UNITE HERE, says workers are ready to strike for “as long as it takes” to reach a fair deal. The unions are encouraging the public to not visit casinos during the strike, asserting that they should “honor” the picket line.

“Don’t play, don’t stay, don’t cross the line. Support the workers who help make them run,” Cohorst said. 

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