New casino project could cost the City of Gary millions
[Gary, IN] – Today, November 5, 2013, about 50 workers from the Majestic Star Casino are attending a Gary Common Council meeting. At the meeting, workers are asking why the City of Gary is spending millions to help a casino that has not agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement covering around 300 workers, and has not agreed to pay what is necessary to keep employees’ current health benefits intact.
Casinos like the Majestic Star were approved by political leaders based on the promise they would bring stable jobs to hard-hit areas like Northwest Indiana. Workers at the Majestic Star have been without a collective bargaining agreement for over a year.
“In recent years, my schedule has been cut down to 35 hours per week. This means less money for me and my family and less money that I can put back into our community,” said Gwen Berry, a cook for 17 years at the casino. “Majestic Star should live up to the promises it made when it opened,” Berry added.
Amidst the labor dispute, the casino is facing a financial dispute with the City of Gary. Previous casino owner Don Barden withheld payments due to the city that totaled about $15 million. While the City recently approved a settlement agreement which recovers $1.2 million less than the City sought from the casino, Majestic Star is asking the City for approval and funding on improvements to the casino access road.
Improvements to the casino access road are part of a Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commissions (NIRPC) transportation improvements plan. The project will include the building of an overpass where vehicles currently have to go under a railroad viaduct and reconstruction of the roadway. The project is set to cost $9.38 million, with $7.5 million in federal funds and $1.88 million in funds from the City of Gary.
“I’m a father of three children who rely on my health coverage. Majestic’s current proposal would cut coverage for myself and my family. If Majestic is going to get tax breaks and perks, they need to first take care of the workers,” said Alex Mora, a bartender at the casino for nine years.
Lake County has appealed a federal bankruptcy judge’s valuation of the casino’s holdings at $7.4 million. If the county loses, the City of Gary and Lake County will have to pay the Majestic Star $8 million.
UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers and casino workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.