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Union representatives explain casino boycott

| Monday, March 23, 2015

Representatives of UNITE HERE, the labor union representing Ameristar Casino employees, described their campaign against the casino during the most recent Labor Cafe discussion sponsored by the Higgins Labor Program — a series of monthly discourses dedicated to educating the Notre Dame community about labor issues.

Dominique Wilson, a representative from the Chicago-based UNITE HERE Local 1 chapter and employee at Bluechip Casino, and Stuart Mora, a UNITE HERE staff member and University alumnus, described the current boycott against Ameristar. The casino’s employees are asking for consumers to boycott the gambling venue as they campaign to keep their health insurance as it is.

According to a UNITE HERE press release, Ameristar employees would like the consumer boycott to continue until the casino agrees to maintain the employees’ current healthcare plan.

Ameristar, a casino owned by Las Vegas-based company Pinnacle Entertainment, proposed a healthcare plan that could charge employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions — an amount that, for several workers, accounts for almost a quarter of their annual wages.

Wilson said Ameristar’s refusal to maintain their employees’ health insurance has drastic implications and creates a significant financial burden for many of its employees.

“[Bluechip and Majestic Star employees are] all going to back [the union workers] in this boycott because we don’t want them to lose — because then, we lose as well,” Wilson said. “We are not just going to let this happen to Ameristar or any other Casino in our union.”

Wilson said while Ameristar’s union initiated the boycott, other casinos such as Majestic Star and Bluechip stand in solidarity. Wilson said the result of the negotiations with Ameristar will set the stage for negotiations with other casinos.

“The way they negotiate everything that one company does, the other usually follows suit,” Wilson said. “If Ameristar can come in and take away health insurance and wages from […] Ameristar workers, when we sit down in a few months to talk to Majestic or Bluechip, they are going to do the same thing.

“They’re going to say ‘Ameristar isn’t paying insurance. They’re not paying good wages, so why should we?’”

Mora said the campaign for health insurance with Pinnacle Entertainment’s casinos is hardly a new issue.

“There’s been a fight in each of these casinos over the last four years to keep that health insurance,” Mora said. “Pinnacle Entertainment is a Las Vegas-based company. [Ameristar] is their only union property out of 15 casinos.”

Both Mora and Wilson said Pinnacle Entertainment has demonstrated resistance towards unions in the past. Wilson said many of Pinnacle Entertainment’s employees are not union workers and, at one point, the company fired several employees for expressing a desire to form a union.

Wilson said the next steps for UNITE HERE union employees include a pledge campaign and several boycott Fridays, as well as a larger social action event April 25. Wilson said she hoped the community and consumer support would result in the boycott’s success.

“When these casinos came, they promised to get people off of welfare, and now they’re basically trying to take it [health insurance] back and put people on assistance from the government and nobody wants that,” Wilson said. “We just want to go to work every day like we’ve been doing and get our insurance and get paid for what we’re worth and take care of our families.”

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