by AmyJo Brown
Employees of the Rivers Casino on the North Shore renewed an effort this morning to unionize every casino worker except security personnel and dealers.
Carrying a large sheet cake announcing the organizing effort, a dozen members of a committee calling itself the Steel City Casino Workers Council delivered it to the employee dining room at about 11 a.m. They also held tightly to packets of documents that defended their right to engage in unionizing activity.
Dorothy Hall, a players' club representative who has worked for the casino for two years, says the workers want "fairness" from management.
In January, the the Post-Gazette reported that, according to figures releases by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Boardm Pennsylvania casinos profits are second only to those in Nevada. The paper noted that the Rivers Casino generated $282.1 million in 2012, up 2.3 percent from 2011.
Hall says the casino is the heart of the community and made a lot of promises to Pittsburgh residents. "We want to be the model casino," she says.
And that means "there are some changes that need to be made," such as better wages and more opportunities to get ahead for the casino's workers, Hall says.
"A lot of team members here have to work two to three jobs to raise their families," she says.
Earlier unionizing efforts have met resistance from management. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2011 that the casino's parent company, the Holdings Acquisition Co., violated fair labor practices by restricting employees' right to engage in union activity at the workplace, surveilling union activity and granting a benefit to employees on the day of the election (an extra break for only one shift of workers to vote), after security workers attempted to unionize shortly after the casino opened in 2009.
Local union activists also point to what they consider other bad behavior by the casino owners, such as the attempt to convince a judge that the casino should pay millions less in taxes because it was "a terrible investment."
The workers were joined this morning by state Sen. Jim Ferlo, Pittsburgh City Councilors Dan Lavelle and Natalia Rudiak, and long-time labor leaders such as Allegheny County Councilor and United Steelworkers' representative John DeFazio; Ppesident of the Allegheny County Labor Council, Jack Shea; and the Teamsters' Joe Molinero.
The local leaders walked alongside casino employees when they entered the casino to present General Manager Craig Clark a petition urging his cooperation in their union effort.
As the workers and labor activists walked in, one cautioned them not to chant or otherwise disrupt the business. "Take the high road," she said. Security guards guided the group to an open side area where they stood quietly for about 10 to 15 minutes. They were then told Clark was not available to meet with them.
The group moved outside, and in front of the casino began speeches to the press. But members of Unite Here, a union representing gaming, food service and hospitality employees across the country, interrupted them and urged them to move off the casino property, to the Riverwalk behind the casino, to make their speeches.
Ferlo, addressing the casino employees, said they have his full support.
"My natural inclination is to confront those security guards," he said, adding that he'd be back if needed and wouldn't "leave those doors so easily" a second time.
Molinero said that other union members were ready to help, too.
"This casino makes too much money to not give you a fair share," he said. "Go in there and get a lot of workers to sign cards. The sooner, the better."
A message left for Clark by the City Paper this afternoon was not immediately returned. But in an e-mailed statement, Rivers spokesperson Emily Watts said, "We take great pride in our team and respect the rights of our employees to choose. So far, the majority of our employees have consistently chosen to remain independent. That is their choice and their right.”