Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. takes over Ameristar Casino, refuses to agree to keep union health insurance for workers

As Majestic Star Casino ratifies union contract, Ameristar workers head into the new year fearful of losing affordable family-supporting healthcare 

With the Majestic Star Casino workers ratifying their union contract with UNITE HERE Local 1 last month, Ameristar Casino is now the only union riverboat casino in Northwest Indiana to refuse to continue the family-supporting union health care plan for its 200 union workers.

The Union had been in negotiations for over two years at three Northwest Indiana casinos: Blue Chip, Majestic Star, and Ameristar Casino, which was bought last year by Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., based in Las Vegas.

Blue Chip Casino settled with the union in December 2013 to keep its employer-paid union health insurance for individuals and families. Only two weeks ago, Majestic Star workers ratified their contract with the union to allow for its workers to maintain their union healthcare coverage as well. Workers cite keeping that healthcare coverage among their top concerns in negotiations for the new contracts. 

But Ameristar refuses to settle – instead proposing a company health plan which charges its employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions for family coverage. Under the current union plan, employees pay nothing as individuals, and $30/month for families and dependents.  

“We don’t gamble with our health,” says Marina Castillo, 32, a beverage server at the casino for the past four years. “It’s insulting that while other people in the industry are doing the same jobs, they can live without the same fears of having to choose between putting food on the table and medical bills.”

Castillo is a mother of four. “We already make poverty wages, and the only good thing this job affords us is the union health insurance,” she says. “Now they want to take that away?”
Meanwhile, Ameristar just reported a revenue of $19.77 million in November 2014, and $18.53 million in October 2014.

In comparison, workers like Castillo make around $16,000 a year. If the Ameristar health care plan were implemented, nearly a quarter of her income would go towards the company plan.

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents nearly a thousand workers at the three properties: 200 workers at Ameristar, 300 workers at Majestic Star, and 450 workers at Blue Chip Casino.  Union contracts at Blue Chip Casino and Majestic Star Casino were settled in December of 2013 and November of 2014, respectively.