Thousands of casino workers in several British Columbia cities are either on strike or gearing up for walkouts as they struggle to win fair wages and improved working conditions. Represented by the BC Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU), the employees work in table games, as slot attendants, cashiers, in the count room, kitchen, security, guest services, theatres and maintenance.
Over 400 members of BCGEU at Hard Rock Casino Vancouver (located in Coquitlam) have been on strike since May 11. The company is keeping the casino open, offering free hot dogs to gamblers. Disappointingly, singer George Thorogood played two sold-out concerts at the venue after the strike began.
Stephanie Smith, president of the BCGEU, said that striking workers are asking casino customers to respect their picket lines. The union has had some success in asking other performers and promoters to reconsider holding their events at the casino.
In February, unionized employees voted 99.5% in favour of taking strike action, with 90% of ballots cast. That prompted mediation, which is required by the B.C. Labour Code, but Smith said the company and the union are still far apart on wages.
On June 4-6, over 675 workers at Gateway Casinos in the Okanagan (Kelowna, Kamloops, Penticton and Vernon) voted 93.1% in favour of striking. Talks for a new collective agreement broke off in May after the employer refused to offer wages and benefits that the union says are industry standard at comparable casinos. The previous contract expired in September 2017.
“The wages Gateway are offering won’t even keep ahead of the planned minimum wage increases,” said Smith. “These workers are the heart of their casinos. Gateway is a successful company in a highly profitable industry – they can afford to pay their workers what they are worth.”
“Gateway Casino workers in the Okanagan are ready to do whatever it takes to get a fair contract with their employer – including strike, if necessary,” adds Smith.
Meanwhile, over 1,000 staff at Gateway’s Grand Villa and Starlight casinos in the Lower Mainland are also in bargaining with their employer.
BCGEU members gathered on June 11 to petition BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC), asking them to ensure fairness in wages and working conditions at casinos across the province. After the rally, a delegation entered the office to deliver hundreds of petition cards signed by casino workers to the BCLC.
The petition states as follows: “Gaming in BC suffers from poor management, disrespectful workplace atmosphere, low public perception and confidence, exploitative working conditions and excessive secrecy. In light of this, we demand that British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC) provide: Immediate intervention to take responsibility for the conduct and management of gaming on behalf of the government as set out in the Gaming Control Act by: Ensuring a fair and speedy resolution to the labour dispute at Hard Rock Casino Vancouver; and enforcing fairness across the entire industry.”
“Casino workers from across the province have had enough,” said Smith. “We are appealing to BCLC to help ensure fairness across the gaming industry. When companies like Great Canadian Gaming and Gateway Casinos rake in billions of dollars year after year, but refuse to pay workers a living wage, there is something wrong with the industry. We’re asking BCLC to step in and fix the problems in the gaming sector – starting with the way workers are treated. Casino workers are asking for fair wages, benefits and respect on the job. It’s the staff who make their casinos profitable and they deserve to share in that success.”