Chicagoland hospitality workers rally for fair treatment, an end to management-led intimidation at Neil Bluhm’s Rivers Casino

Rivers workers organize, citing low pay, chronic understaffing and lack of job security

Des Plaines, IL – Today, over 100 Rivers Casino workers, Chicago hospitality workers and community allies are rallying outside Rivers Casino. They are calling for better working conditions and an end to management-led intimidation at Rivers. Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm is the chairman of the company that owns Rivers Casino.

Casino workers have been publicly seeking a fair process to decide whether to join a union since October 2013. Since then, casino management has embarked on an intimidation and harassment campaign that has prompted 55 federal unfair labor practice charges.

Workers claim that management has, among other tactics, threatened the loss of benefits, ordered union fliers thrown in the trash and held captive-audience meetings. In addition, they claim management has directed security personnel to escort union supporters from the dining room and has disciplined union supporters. These tactics can create a climate of fear, hindering employees from unionizing.

Last year, Rivers workers began organizing in response to low pay, chronic understaffing and lack of job security. Workers are being paid thousands of dollars less per year than workers who do similar jobs minutes away at the Hilton Chicago O’Hare and Hyatt Regency O’Hare, where workers are members of UNITE HERE. Even at Neil Bluhm’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in downtown Chicago, UNITE HERE members make thousands of dollars per year more than employees at Rivers Casino. At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, a barback earns nearly $14,000 more per year than a barback at the casino. 

“Rivers Casino promised to provide good jobs. But, my coworkers and I are overworked and struggling to make ends meet,” said Brita Howfolt, a Rivers Casino host. “Our work and energy are exploited for the company’s gain. No one should have to sacrifice their health for work.”

Workers say Rivers Casino can afford to provide better working conditions. Since opening in 2011, Rivers has generated revenue nearly two times that of its closest competitor, making it the state’s highest grossing casino. In spite of its success, the casino recently received its third tax break in three years, bringing its total property tax savings since opening to $5.1 million.

Employees of Bluhm’s Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia are also organizing. Last month, workers from the three casinos rallied in front of Bluhm’s Chicago headquarters at 900 N. Michigan Ave. In September 2013, Rivers Pittsburgh settled 29 federal unfair labor practice charges to avoid further prosecution. The National Labor Relations Board is reviewing charges filed against SugarHouse Casino in 2013.


UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 15,000 airport, hotel, and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana.