At noon Tuesday, dozens of MotorCity Casino Hotel workers, including dealers, servers, bartenders, and valets, took a bold stand outside their workplace, lining up at Brooklyn and Temple streets. Signs in hand, they were ready to make their demands clear.
“What do we want?” one protester shouted.
“A contract!” came the resounding reply from the workers, marching in unison.
“When do we want it?”
As cars exited the casino parking garage, horns blared in a show of solidarity.
The demonstration at MotorCity wasn’t isolated. Approximately 3,700 workers across Detroit’s major casinos – MotorCity, MGM Grand Detroit, and Hollywood Casino at Greektown – took to the streets following the passing of a noon deadline for a new contract. Notably, this marked the first strike for the city’s three major casinos since their openings in 1999 and 2000. This significant labor action comes on the heels of contract negotiations that kicked off in September.
BridgeDetroit reported that despite the unfolding labor unrest, all three casinos have plans to remain operational.
These labor tensions are not exclusive to the casino industry. This strike joins a series of recent labor movements, including walkouts by the United Auto Workers at General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Stellantis, and unionized customer service workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Meghan Cohorst, a spokesperson for the Detroit Casino Council (DCC), which represents the workers, detailed their grievances, “Across the board, they’re (workers) saying that what they’re earning is not enough and that they made sacrifices in the raises that they did receive over the course of the pandemic to help the casinos stay afloat and keep thriving,” she told BridgeDetroit. Cohorst continued, emphasizing, “And now they’re asking to get what they deserve now that the industry has recovered and is doing as well as it ever has been.”
The DCC is a collective that includes the United Auto Workers, Unite Here Local 24, Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324, and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters.
MGM Grand Detroit’s Midwest Group President and COO, Matt Buckley, communicated in a letter to his employees that the casino presented six proposals to the unions, with the latest being “the largest pay increase in the history of MGM Grand Detroit.”
“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,” Buckley stated.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson from Penn Entertainment, overseeing Hollywood Casino at Greektown, described their settlement offers as “generous, progressive” and designed for “sustainable success.” However, MotorCity representatives had not provided any comment to BridgeDetroit as of the time of reporting.
If the strike persists, the implications could be vast, not just for the casinos but also for Detroit’s finances. According to records, the three casinos collectively paid the City of Detroit a hefty $155.6 million in 2022 and an additional $102 million to the state. As per the DCC’s estimates, each day of the strike could jeopardize $452,000 in revenue for Detroit and a total of $3.4 million across the three casinos.
Union sources highlighted the immense revenues generated by the casinos. In 2022, they reported an astounding $2.27 billion from both in-person and online gaming, setting a historical record. This momentum showed no signs of stopping as the casinos were on track for yet another record year in 2023.
Amidst these numbers, on Tuesday, Terri Sykes, a 24-year veteran dealer at MotorCity, stood firm on the picket line. Holding her “MotorCity on strike” sign, the 57-year-old shared her personal experience with BridgeDetroit. Sykes reflected on how her role at the casino was once a middle-class job. Yet, with meager raises, amounting to 27 cents per hour annually, her current wage stands at a mere $12.74 an hour. With rising living costs, this wage does little to meet daily necessities. A two-time breast cancer survivor, Sykes also emphasized her need for better health benefits.
“Back in the day, you could walk out of the store with a cart of groceries for $100,” she recollected. “Now, when I go to the grocery store, I come out with two bags of groceries and that was $90. And these corporate people, they’re getting their bonuses. We’re not asking for them to put us at their wage, we’re simply asking them to be fair.”