Casino and Blue Cross labor strikes stretch on in Detroit 

By: - November 11, 2023 9:41 am

UNITE HERE Local 24 president Nia Winston at the March for Workers’ Rights and Economic Justice in Detroit on Oct. 19, 2023 | Ken Coleman

Detroit casino workers are continuing their strike against three operators, hopeful that they’ll be able to secure a big win like the UAW has in tentative deals with domestic automakers.

It’s day 26 for the strike. 

On Oct. 17, unionized casino workers at MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity Casino, and Hollywood Casino at Greektown launched a strike affecting 3,700 casino workers, including dealers, cleaning staff, food and beverage workers, valets, engineers, and more. The Detroit Casino Council (DCC) is composed of UNITE HERE Local 24, the United Auto Workers (UAW), Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324, and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters. 

Here’s where the UAW strike against Detroit Three stands

“Our wages have not kept up with the pace of inflation,” said Nia Winston, UNITE HERE Local 24, president said Thursday on behalf of the Detroit Casino Council.

The UAW went on strike on Sept 15 against Ford, Stellantis and GM, with the labor action spreading to plants in more than 20 states, including more than a dozen facilities in Michigan — more than any other state.

The union secured tentative agreements with all three automakers, including a 25% wage increase through April 2028 and an end to tiered compensation, where workers with lesser seniority earn significantly reduced pay than more senior tenured employees.   

The casinos have remained open during the DCC strike. Detroit casino communications representatives did not respond to a request for comment.  

Unions are slated to hold a rally from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at MGM Grand Detroit.

“It’s absurd that companies that have generated so much wealth since the pandemic would refuse to share it with the working people of Detroit who made their profits possible,” said Winston. “This week, Las Vegas casino workers are settling the best contracts in their history just like Atlantic City did last year — contracts with the largest wage increases ever, reduced workloads in housekeeping, and advancements in technology, health and safety.  

“We’re dealing with some of the same players here, so why should Detroit be treated any differently? It’s time for Detroit to win the best contracts ever, and we call on MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity and Hollywood Casino at Greektown to give the people of Detroit the respect they’re due,” Winston said.

The DCC on Friday launched a boycott four sports betting and online casino platforms associated with the three casinos where workers have been forced on strike: FanDuel (MotorCity Casino), soon-to-be-launched ESPN BET and Hollywood iCasino (Hollywood Casino at Greektown), and BetMGM (MGM Grand Detroit).

“Online sports betting and online casino platforms like FanDuel, ESPN BET, and BetMGM are critical sources of revenue for the companies that operate Detroit’s three casinos,” said Winston. “Workers have been outside the physical locations 24/7 since going out on strike three weeks ago to win a fair contract. Now, they’re calling on the public not to cross their virtual picket line either, and to boycott these apps until the strike is settled.”

Other apps such as Caesars Sportsbook, Caesars Palace Online Casino, WynnBET, DraftKings, Sports Illustrated Sportsbook, and others are not part of the boycott, the DCC said.

The Detroit City Council last month unanimously approved a resolution supporting the strike.

On Tuesday, striking casino workers urged the Detroit City Council to ensure health and safety protections for strikers. Negotiations continued this week. 

They called for “Detroit Strikers Bill of Rights” resolution calling for various strike protections, including the right to have sources of warmth, like heaters and bonfires, that are not confiscated or ticketed as temperatures drop; keeping vehicles 50 feet away from the public right of way to avoid picketers having to breathe exhaust; keeping barriers away from sidewalks that force pedestrians into the street; and allowing drivers to honk in support of the protest, despite the noise ordinance prohibiting shouting or whistling and loud noise.

“The workers on strike — braving the cold every day to improve jobs in this city — are Detroit’s heroes,” Mary Sheffield, Detroit City Council president said on Tuesday. “These companies underestimate your toughness, but that’s a big mistake. I call on everyone in this community to join me in supporting Detroit’s heroes in their fight for respect and a decent way of life. I am behind you no matter how long it takes.”

As late fall weather sets in, the DCC unions are calling on the public to support strikers by donating warm winter clothes, non-perishable food items, diapers, baby formula, feminine hygiene products, cleaning supplies and other essentials. 

Drop off locations are located at Hollywood Casino at Greektown and Blue Cross Blue Shield (Lafayette Blvd. between St. Antoine and Beaubien); MGM Grand Detroit (Third Ave. and Bagley); and MotorCity Casino (Spruce at Brooklyn streets).

Meanwhile, about 1,000 UAW Local 2500 members who work at Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS) went on strike in September, before the UAW launched its “Stand Up Strike” against Stellantis, GM and Ford.

The union represents the health insurance company’s customer service call center department and other workers.

Derrick Jackson, UAW Local 2500 vice president, said workers are fighting for an increase in and pushing back on jobs that have been outsourced to other countries. 

The practice has led to a “significant decrease in our membership by over 40% in the last decade,” according to a UAW statement. 

 

“We are asking for increases in wages and how long it takes for a new-hire employee to go to max pay,” Jackson said. “You can be an employee for 15 and 20 years and not get max pay.”

This practice has led to a significant decrease in their membership by over 40% in the last decade, according to the statement. 

BCBS management told the Advance on Friday that it has negotiated in “good faith and in the spirit of collective bargaining.” 

“Blue Cross management has put a record contract offer on the table with the UAW that raises wages by 23 to 33%, protects workers’ pay against inflation and provides a one-time $5,000 bonus – in addition to improving their already robust health care benefits,” according to its email response to a request for comment.

“We believe the union should take this offer to the workers for discussion and ratification. Our desire is to bring our entire workforce back together to reaffirm our commitment to outstanding service for our members, group customers, provider partners and other stakeholders. In the meantime, contingencies remain in place to provide services to providers, group customers and our millions of members around the nation. We regret any inconvenience caused by this situation – which we desire to resolve quickly, consistent with the spirit of collective bargaining, with our partners at the UAW.”

The Detroit branch NAACP visited striking workers last week and donated food and household items. 

“The laborers are worthy of their hire,” the Rev. Wendell Anthony, branch president, told them. “That means that what you do is worthy enough to be paid and be paid right.” 

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.

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