Health Insurance Plan Cut At Ameristar Casino Leads to National Demonstration


Protesters gather in front of Ameristar Casino in March, calling for a fair union contract

Union leaders from across the country to gather in East Chicago, call for fair contract for Ameristar workers

EAST CHICAGO, IN – Union leaders and hundreds of union members from as far as Tunica, Mississippi plan to converge outside the Ameristar Casino grounds on Tuesday, to sound support for the ongoing boycott and Ameristar employees currently fighting for a fair contract.

In May, Ameristar’s Las Vegas-based owner, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., cut the affordable, family-supporting union health plan that union workers had enjoyed for years. The 200 union workers represented by UNITE HERE are now struggling with the reality of newly imposed cuts to their health insurance plan.

“I depended on our good insurance. I need medication every day for my diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure,” says Ana Colon, a cleaner for the past 15 years at Ameristar.

Tuesday’s demonstration will be the largest to date since the Ameristar boycott was initiated, with buses coming from New Orleans, Mississippi, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Chicago.

Under the union plan, employees paid nothing for individual coverage and $30/month for family and dependent coverage. Family coverage under the new Pinnacle plan will charge employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions, beginning in 2016.

“When the casinos came to Northwest Indiana, they promised good jobs. Now they’re asking us to literally choose between putting food on the table and our families’ health.” says Natalie Mijares, a 34 year old bartender and mother of two. Mijares has worked at Ameristar for nine years.

In March, the cleaners, servers, and bartenders at Ameristar called for a boycott of the property, asking customers to gamble elsewhere until the contract is settled and the Union health plan is restored. The boycott immediately drew support from the United Steelworkers, representing 70,000 members and the Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor, representing around 41,000 members.

Workers have since organized weekly pickets of the property, in addition to regular customer outreach. Earlier this month, UNITE HERE launched a new website dedicated to informing potential customers about labor disputes in the region.

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents nearly a thousand workers at three Northwest Indiana casino properties: 200 workers at Ameristar, 300 workers at Majestic Star, and 450 workers at Blue Chip Casino.