members on strike
MotorCity Casino Hotel workers went on strike last month after union and management officials failed to reach an agreement. However, workers at MotorCity and Hollywood Casino at Greektown ratified a new contract Sunday. MGM Grand is still on strike. (BridgeDetroit photo by Quinn Banks)

After a month-long strike for increased wages and better health care, two of Detroit’s three casinos have voted to ratify a new contract. 

Union members with Hollywood Casino at Greektown and MotorCity Casino Hotel came to an agreement Sunday, while workers at MGM Grand Detroit rejected the proposed deal, said the Detroit Casino Council (DCC), which represents all three venues. 

At 9 p.m. Sunday, strikes at the two casinos ended, while workers at MGM Grand continued on the picket line. 

Related: Detroit casino workers go on strike demanding better pay, benefits

The contract ratification comes after all three casinos reached a tentative agreement Friday for a new five-year contract, which includes the largest wage increases ever negotiated in the Detroit casino industry’s 23-year history, said DCC. Upon ratification, workers will receive an immediate $3 an hour raise and $5 an hour total raises over the life of the contract. 

“They won the biggest gains that they’ve ever wanted, especially in wages and they protected their health care, which is really incredible for workers at these casinos,” said DCC spokesperson Diana Hussein. “Obviously, MGM workers felt a little bit different and that’s the whole beauty of union democracy. It’s democracy in action and the point of the union is to make sure everybody feels like they are achieving what they fought really hard for.”

MGM Grand dealer Yolanda Grier said the proposed raise isn’t enough. She and several other workers were outside the casino in the cold Monday evening with hand warmers, propane heaters and fire pits. Grier said the average pay for dealers is $12.09 an hour.  

“They should’ve already gave us that,” she said. “We worked in here through COVID and they didn’t give us anything for that. 

Grier also said workers didn’t have enough time to look over the contract, as they only had two days to vote. 

“It wasn’t a good contract for me as a 24-year employee. That’s the best way to sum it up.”

In a letter to MGM Grand employees, Midwest Group President and COO Matt Buckley said he was “disappointed” that MGM workers turned down the proposal due to the immediate effect it would have had on employees and their families, as well as the historic nature of the contract. He said MGM Grand will remain open.

“It’s also disappointing because the other two Detroit casinos voted ‘yes’ on ratification,” Buckley wrote. “All employees were voting on the exact same contract, which the DCC itself said was ‘a historic investment in Detroit’s future’ and ‘fulfills the gaming industry’s promise to Detroit of high‐paying casino jobs with good benefits.’” 

Hussein said she is unsure when MGM Grand workers will be back at the bargaining table. She didn’t immediately provide other details on why MGM workers turned down the proposal.

What’s in the new contract? 

About 3,700 dealers, servers, bartenders, valets and other workers from all three casinos went on strike Oct. 17, marking the first time the properties participated in a walkout since they opened in 1999 and 2000. 

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 addition to better pay and benefits, workers were fighting for retirement security and a reduction in workloads that increased following pandemic-related job cuts. The casinos met the majority of those demands, with the new contract including: 

  • No increased costs or plan changes for health insurance.
  • Reduced workloads in housekeeping and other classifications.
  • Securing first-ever technology protections to guarantee advanced notification when new technology is introduced that impacts jobs, require training for new jobs created by technology and provide health care and severance pay for workers who are laid off because of new technology. 
  • First-ever 401k employer match program up to $1,000 during the second year of the contract. 
  • Paid Juneteenth holiday.

Hussein said this is a big moment in labor organizing, noting that the union hall was busy all day Sunday with workers voting for the new contract. 

“They wanted to express their opinion on this, whether it’s strongly in favor or they felt like they can get more like MGM did,” she said. “At the end of the day, it just goes to show that workers feel like they have a lot of power right now and are showing that.”

Fighting for (another) new contract 

Grier, 59, said the strike is causing her to fall behind on bills and other expenses. She is receiving $500 in strike pay for picketing four hours a day, five days a week. The west side resident is also taking gigs as a Uber and Lyft driver to take care of her three grandchildren. 

“That’s wear and tear on my car and I gotta pay for gas,” Grier said. “It’s like I’m losing doing that because I have to make a certain amount of money to even recoup what I have to spend to drive. It’s tight, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

Grier hopes DCC and the casino can come to an agreement as soon as this week so that she can get back to work. She said the holiday season is usually her favorite time of the year, but this year will be more focused on bills than presents for her family.

“I can’t even think of Christmas,” she said. “I gotta pray to God that we get a contract that we feel like we deserve so we can get back to work. We wouldn’t be out here in the cold doing this for nothing. We just need them to listen to us.” 

Fellow dealer Arup Baidya also wants a higher raise than what was laid in the new contract. The Madison Heights resident said it should be between $7 and $8 for the five years. 

“I want to see the employees doing good because we are a team here,” Baidya, 38, said. “So hopefully, we’ll be able to do something with respect.”

Going back to work

MotorCity slot attendant Tyjuanese Lyte said she’s looking forward to heading back to work next week. She said the last couple of weeks of the strike were getting tough as the weather grew colder. 

However, Lyte, 48, appreciated the support from Detroit City Council, which placed donation bins at all three casinos and passed a permit that allowed workers to have propane heaters and fire pits. Council President Mary Sheffield is seeking a resolution for a “bill of rights” agenda that would make picketing safer.

“At the beginning of negotiations, it seemed like our claims were falling on deaf ears,” Lyte said. “When we got involved with the City Council, they assured us that they were with us every step of the way and they helped us a lot with those permits.” 

While Lyte is happy to see the new contract includes raises and no increased costs for health care, there are still some things she wished made the cut, like more personal days and vacation time. Currently, workers receive eight personal days and four weeks of vacation. 

“I’ve been there for 24 years and we really haven’t had more time since our 12th year of working there, so we were trying to get a little more time,” Lyte said. 

However, with the holidays coming up, the Detroiter said she’ll be able to buy her 21-year-old daughter a laptop and gifts for her 27-year-old son, whose birthday is on Christmas. 

“It’ll be a great feeling to walk back through the doors,” Lyte said. “My anniversary was last Wednesday, so it made my 24th year. And there’s people there that have become family, so it’ll be nice to see their faces again.” 

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