For nearly a month, the casino workers at Detroit’s three casinos, MGM Grand, Hollywood at Greektown, and MotorCity, have been on strike. This coincides with the strike wave that is happening in the Metro Detroit area, including workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield, and following the United Auto Workers (UAW) strike at the Big Three auto manufacturers who recently reached a Tentative Agreement (TA). The casino workers represented by Unite Here Local 24, UAW, Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324, and Regional Council of Carpenters that make up The Detroit Casino Council (DCC) have demanded the following: a wage increase to keep with inflation, lowering the price of healthcare, and job security with the guarantee that the casinos won’t replace their jobs with technology before the contract is up.
The casinos have made tremendous profits over the years, despite the economic downturn caused by Covid-19. In 2022 the three casinos made $2.27 billion, their highest revenue in Detroit history. Despite these record profits, the workers only got a three percent wage increase while inflation in Detroit has risen to 20 percent. This means that any wage increase from their last contract has effectively been nullified.
The casino workers’ struggle has gained a lot of community support with many from other casinos on strike and other unions joining each other’s pickets. With momentum from the strike wave in Detroit, workers called for a boycott of major online casino betting sites which generate revenue for the casino on Monday, November 13.
Speaking with workers at MGM Grand, many are extremely grateful for the love and solidarity shown by the community and are hopeful that a successful strike will improve their living conditions. Many view working at the casino as a job where they can earn a comfortable living and build something to be proud of in Detroit. But workers on the picket are also scared of how long the strike is going to last as it stretches into the winter months, and $500 a week in strike pay is barely enough to cover their expenses. One striking worker said that they only just received permission to have fires outside for the pickets: “The police kept coming and taking the fire away. But it’s been getting so cold at night.”
On November 7, hundreds of casino workers joined a Detroit City Council meeting to push a resolution created by casino workers called Detroit Striker’s Bill of Rights, part of which states that striking workers have a right to things like bonfires or electric heaters to stay warm outside their pickets. On Tuesday, November 14, the council supported this resolution, providing some comfort to workers on the picket lines.
The pressure is not only being felt by the workers at MGM grand on strike, it’s also being felt by the casino itself. Due to its decision to remain open during the strike, the casino has resorted to scabbing in order to remain operational with varying degrees of success. Without the backing of the workers who run the casino, management has been forced to work tables and deal — positions they are legally not allowed to perform, according to MGM’s gaming license. Furthermore the use of subcontracting scabs from across the region means that MGM and other casinos are in violation of the city’s rules that all at least half of the employees at Detroit area casinos must live in the city.
The city of Detroit also has a vested interest in this contract fight as well. Casinos are its third biggest tax revenue stream to the tune of $155 million in taxes every year — money that the city does not want to lose so it wants the strike to end as quickly as possible regardless if the workers win their demands or not. The casino workers of Detroit do all the work that makes these incredibly profitable corporations run, and, like all workers, they deserve every penny of that profit. So until then we must continue to stand in solidarity with the workers on the picket line until their demands are met.