DETROIT — Dozens of dealers, servers, bartenders, valets and other workers at MotorCity Casino Hotel made their way outside at noon Tuesday, planting themselves at Brooklyn and Temple streets, signs up, ready to strike.
“What do we want?” one yelled.
“A contract!” replied the workers, walking around in a circle.
“When do we want it?”
Cars leaving the casino parking garage honked in solidarity.
Some 3,700 workers from MotorCity as well as Detroit’s two other casinos, MGM Grand Detroit and Hollywood Casino at Greektown, went on strike on Tuesday, after a noon deadline passed for a new contract.
This is the first strike for the city’s three casinos since they opened in 1999 and 2000, and the walkout follows negotiations that began in September.
All three casinos plan to remain open.
The strike is the latest in a wave of labor actions this fall, following walkouts by the United Auto Workers at General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis and unionized customer service workers at Blue Cross Blue Shield.
The casino workers, represented by the Detroit Casino Council (DCC), want increased wages, better health care and retirement security and a reduction in workloads that increased following pandemic-related job cuts.
“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,” said Meghan Cohorst, a spokesperson for casino council.
“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 council consists of the United Auto Workers, Unite Here Local 24, Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324 and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters.
In a letter to MGM Grand employees, Midwest Group President and COO Matt Buckley said that six proposals were made to the unions and the latest offer included 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 said.
In a written statement, Penn Entertainment, which oversees Hollywood Casino at Greektown, a spokesperson said the company made “generous, progressive settlement offers that position our team members and business for sustainable success.”
Representatives from MotorCity did not immediately respond to BridgeDetroit for comments.
City stands to lose money
A prolonged strike could hurt not only the bottom lines of the casinos, but also the city.
The casinos paid $155.6 million to the City of Detroit in 2022 — more than property tax collections — and another $102 million to the state.
The casino council estimates that every day of a strike puts at risk $452,000 in revenues for Detroit and a total of $3.4 million for the three casinos.
According to the unions, the casinos generated $2.27 billion in revenue from in-person and online gaming in 2022, the most in city history.
The casinos were on track for a record-breaking year in 2023, according to the unions, even as in-person gambling revenue fell 1 percent in 2022 to $1.276 billion, according to the Michigan Gaming Control Board.
The MGM Grand accounted for nearly half of the 2022 total, followed by MotorCity at 31 percent and Hollywood Casino at 21 percent.
Workers say they’ve sacrificed
On the picket line Tuesday, Terri Sykes held a sign that read, “MotorCity on strike.” The 57-year-old East Side resident has been a dealer at the casino for 24 years.
Sykes said when she first started, working at the casino was a middle-class job. But the raises she has received have been minimal, increasing 27 cents per hour a year.
Sykes currently makes $12.74 an hour, which she said is not enough for daily expenses like groceries.
She said she is a two-time breast cancer survivor who needs better benefits because the casino wants employees to pay more into their insurance premium.
“Back in the day, you could walk out of the store with a cart of groceries for $100,” she said. “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.”
Tyjuanese Lyte, a slot attendant at MotorCity, said she is supporting her 21-year-old daughter with her salary, who is a student at Eastern Michigan University.
“I pay half of her rent, her insurance, her phone bill,” the west side resident said. “I want to do what I can to maintain while she’s in school.”
Lyte, 48, said that for the last 23 years, her position has helped her support her daughter and son and has become close to coworkers who feel like family. But the last few years have been financially challenging.
“We try to push through,” she said. “We keep each other lifted in spirit. You have to have a good mindset working in this atmosphere.”
Bridge Michigan reporter Paula Gardner contributed to this article.