Health Insurance Plan Cut At Ameristar Casino Leads to National Demonstration

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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.

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Gaming Union Launches Website Informing Northwest Indiana Customers of Area Labor Disputes

legalized-marina-memeEAST CHICAGO, IN – The union for workers in gaming, hotels, and food service industries, UNITE HERE, has launched a new website intended as a resource for customers of Northwest Indiana casinos who need to know whether labor disputes could affect their plans in the area.

The website, www.indianagamingalert.org, will be regularly updated with information about actual and potential labor disputes affecting NW Indiana casinos and the status of contract negotiations. Concerned customers and visitors to the site may sign up for email updates, as well as find strategies to protect their event or travel plans from the possibility of being impacted by labor disputes.

Consumers’ need for such a resource is especially great now, as East Chicago’s Ameristar Casino is embroiled in a lengthy labor dispute with UNITE HERE. Union workers had been in negotiations with Ameristar, which was bought in 2012 by Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., based in Las Vegas.

In May, Pinnacle cut the affordable, family-supporting union health plan that union workers at Ameristar East Chicago had enjoyed for years. Family coverage under the Pinnacle plan will charge employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions, beginning in 2016. Under the union plan, employees paid nothing for individual coverage and $30/month for family and dependent coverage. Ameristar is now the only union riverboat casino in Northwest Indiana that does not offer a union health care plan for its 200 union workers.

The cleaners, servers, and bartenders at Ameristar have called for a boycott of the property until the contract is settled. Workers at Ameristar have begun reaching out directly to regional community members and customers to keep them informed and ask for support.

Indianagamingalert.org is part of that effort. Items recently posted to the site include:

· Profiles and stories of area casino workers

· An online pledge to boycott, signed by customers and the general public, demanding Ameristar Casino settle a fair contract that maintains the union health plan.

· Photo gallery of customer and community supporters/pledge signees

· News stories/press about the Ameristar boycott

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.

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Feds to prosecute Kimpton Hotels for alleged threats against housekeepers

Contact: Joe Shansky (312) 623-5382, jshansky@unitehere1.org

59 alleged violations of federal labor law at downtown Hotel Monaco and Hotel Burnham

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Kimpton workers on strike in April

On April 30th, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Chicago Regional Office issued a federal complaint against Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group for allegedly interrogating employees about their union activities, threatening firings, and threatening loss of wages and benefits if they chose to unionize at the Hotel Monaco and Burnham Hotel downtown.

According to the NLRB complaint, which can be found here, alleged violations by Kimpton management and select staff at both hotels include: 

·         Creating the impression of surveillance of employees engaged in protected, concerted activity;

·         Threatening unspecified reprisals for engaging in protected, concerted activity such as distributing union flyers

·         Interrogating employees about union membership, activities and sympathies

·         Threatening to take away benefits and/or withdrawal of benefits if employees select the Union as their bargaining representative

The complaint follows last month’s one-day strike by housekeepers calling for the Hotel Monaco to remain neutral as employees decide whether or not to unionize.

“All we want is to be able to make the choice for ourselves about forming a union,” says Jorge Jamaica, a houseman at the Hotel Monaco for the past 5 years. “I don’t understand why our managers won’t let us have the freedom to decide, but I’m glad the Labor Board is seeking an order that will make them to stop doing things that violate our right to organize.”

The NLRB General Counsel found sufficient basis to prosecute unfair labor practice charges that include twenty-eight allegations at the Hotel Monaco, and thirty-one at the Hotel Burnham. The trial is scheduled for July 21 in Chicago.

Workers at both hotels first approached hotel management in November 2014 to demand a fair process to decide on unionization, which guarantees no interference or opposition from management.

Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group operates four Chicago hotels. UNITE HERE Local 1 represents workers at the Hotel Allegro and Hotel Palomar, where workers won a union contract in 2012 after the hotel agreed to a fair process to organize.

Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group was purchased by Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC (LON:IHG) last December.

The Hotel Monaco is owned by Xenia Hotels and Resorts (NYSE:XHR), a recently spun-off affiliate of Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc. The Wall Street Journal recently dubbed Inland American a “zombie REIT” for its failure to wind down and return cash to shareholders. Inland American’s new name is InvenTrust Property Corp. The Hotel Burnham is owned by Lone Star Funds, a private equity fund manager.

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents over 6,500 hotel workers in downtown Chicago.

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Rivers Casino workers rally for a fair process to organize a union; call for Rush Street Gaming’s “New York Deal”

ProgressILRivers3-14-14Despite pledging to abide by a fair organizing process in New York, Neil Bluhm’s casino management company refuses to stop intimidation and harassment tactics in Des Plaines

DES PLAINES, IL– Over one hundred casino and hotel workers lined the road leading into Rivers Casino today to protest managers’ continued anti-union practices and call for a fair process to organize a union at the casino.

Although the company recently pledged to abide by a fair process for a planned casino in upstate New York, Rush Street Gaming, majority owned by Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, has refused to agree to the same process to respect workers’ rights to organize their union in Des Plaines.

“Rivers Casino needs to stop attacking us so we can get a fair process for Chicago,” said Linnea Dominiek, a server in the VIP lounge at Rivers for the past three years.  “Why is Rivers refusing the same fair deal my coworkers in upstate New York will get?”

The rally capped three weeks of demonstrations at each of Neil Bluhm’s US casinos (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and now Chicago/Des Plaines).  Casino workers from each of the Pennsylvania casinos traveled to Des Plaines to stand with their coworkers.

The Rivers Casino conflict escalated early last year outside Chicago when dozens of unfair labor practice charges, including intimidation and harassment of workers, were found to have merit by the General Counsel to the National Labor Relations Board.

UNITE HERE Local 1 has been supporting workers organizing at Rivers in Des Plaines.

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Housekeepers On Strike at Chicago’s Hotel Monaco

strikemonacoHousekeepers at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Chicago are on strike today to demand a fair process to organize a union.

They held a rally and press conference today at 11:00 am at Daley Plaza, with union and non-union housekeepers from across Chicago.

Workers at the Hotel Monaco first approached hotel management in November 2014 to demand a fair process to decide on unionization. A fair process is an agreement where the employer pledges not to interfere while employees decide whether or not they would like to join a union. It guarantees no interference or opposition from management.

The Hotel Monaco is among four Chicago hotels operated by Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group. UNITE HERE Local 1 currently represents workers at two Kimpton hotels in the city, the Hotel Palomar and Hotel Allegro. Workers at the Hotel Palomar won a union contract in 2012 after the hotel agreed to a fair process to organize.

In a March survey of 11 out of 21 total housekeepers at the Hotel Monaco by UNITE HERE, 72% said that they regularly have to work during one or more breaks to complete their required tasks. Only two workers reported that their 8.5-hour shift was enough time to clean their rooms and take their required breaks.

“I love my job, but it has been very difficult. I clean sixteen rooms every day. When I get home from work I feel pain all over my body,” says Maricela Gonzalez, a housekeeper at the Hotel Monaco for 15 years and mother of three children.

“Instead of playing with my daughter when I get home, sometimes I collapse on the couch and she helps rub my sore feet because I’m too tired to move.”

In 2014, non-union Hotel Monaco employees like Maricela had to pay at least $1,500 per year for individual health insurance with a $3,000 deductible, or $8,000 per year for family coverage with a $6,000 deductible.

But unionized Kimpton employees in Chicago at the Hotel Palomar and Hotel Allegro pay nothing for individual coverage, or $360 per year for a family plan.

“When we organized, we won the right to a fair process without management interference, and through that process decided that we wanted union representation. After we chose Local 1, we negotiated a contract, and today I pay only $30 per month for health insurance for my whole family,” says Yarmelli Garcia, a lobby attendant at the Hotel Palomar. Yarmelli’s husband Jesus is a striking housekeeping assistant at the Hotel Monaco.

The Hotel Monaco is owned by Xenia Hotels and Resorts (NYSE:XHR), a recently spun-off affiliate of Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc. Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group was purchased by Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC (LON:IHG) last December.

UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 6,500 hotel workers in downtown Chicago.

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Ameristar Casino Workers Launch Boycott of Company Over Health Insurance

Contact: Joe Shansky (312) 623-5382, jshansky@unitehere1.org

unionprideboycottameristarEmployees urge customers to stay away from Ameristar until labor dispute is settled

EAST CHICAGO, IN – As of Wednesday March 4th, workers at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago are asking customers to gamble elsewhere until Ameristar settles a union contract that maintains workers’ current Union health care plan.

Union workers 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. Pinnacle has proposed eliminating the affordable, family-supporting health care that Ameristar’s 200 union workers currently enjoy.

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

“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 at the casino. Mijares, who has worked at Ameristar for nine years, is a union shop steward.

“I grew up in a Steelworker family. That means we’re proud, and we’re fighters. We’ve been in Indiana for my entire life.  Pinnacle just got here. I’ll be damned if I let them destroy the standards we built,” Mijares added.

“Without family-supporting health care, we might as well work at McDonalds,” says Marina Castillo, a 32 year-old beverage server and mother of four.  “My co-workers and I are prepared to ask our customers to boycott the casino if that’s what it takes to get a fair contract.”

Blue Chip Casino settled with the union in December 2013, agreeing to keep employer-paid union health insurance for individuals and families. In November 2014, Majestic Star workers ratified their contract which allows for 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.

The boycott announcement has galvanized the Northwest Indiana community, drawing endorsements from Congressman Pete Visclosky, Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor, which represents 42,000 members, United Steelworkers Local 1014, and the United Steelworkers Local 7-1, currently on strike at BP in Whiting, among others.

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 union workers.

Ameristar reported revenue of $17.6 million in January 2015. In comparison, workers like Castillo make around $16,000 in wages 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 three Northwest Indiana casino properties: 200 workers at Ameristar, 300 workers at Majestic Star, and 450 workers at Blue Chip Casino.

 

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Chicago-based United Airlines Facing Food Worker Protests

Airport catering workers call for affordable health care in new national campaign

CHICAGO — Airline catering workers in Chicago and across the U.S. say their healthcare is too expensive, leaving many uninsured or under-insured.  They’re launching an unprecedented national campaign calling on major airlines such as United– many of which are reporting record profits – to fix the problem.   

Today workers in O’Hare’s catering kitchens rallied near United Airlines’ downtown headquarters. They delivered a letter and photo petition to United’s CEO representatives on behalf of over 10,000 airline catering workers at 42 U.S. airports, requesting that United earmark one nickel per passenger ticket towards more affordable healthcare options for workers.  Additional campaign launch events are taking place in 17 cities across the U.S, coordinated by UNITE HERE, a union representing 27,000 airline workers in the airline food industry. In Chicago, Local 1 represents approximately 900 airline catering workers.

“I pay more than $400 each month, almost an entire week’s paycheck, for insurance,” said Natasha Hill, a 19-year employee who services planes for United, Delta and other airlines at O’Hare International Airport. “On top of that I have to pay $10,000 out of pocket before my family even starts seeing the benefits.  But I pay because my two sons need health insurance.”

Employed in every major airport, airline food workers clean dishes, prepare meals, ensure security and transport the food and beverages consumed aboard thousands of flights each day.  They play an integral role in the smooth operation of airline itineraries, but according to a 2014 analysis of nearly 10,000 contracted airline catering workers nationally showed over 40 percent make less than $10.10 per hour.

Such low wages position industry workers between a rock and a hard place: unable to pay the premiums of so-called “minimum value plans,” but ineligible to purchase more affordable options from health care exchanges.  Over one-quarter of workers surveyed by UNITE HERE reported being uninsured.  In other cases, they pay annual premiums for company offered health care of over $1,900 for individuals and over $5,000 for families – all on top of an additional $5,000 minimum deductible.  As a result, many workers struggle to make ends meet: in the aforementioned survey, 25% of airline catering workers reported receiving some sort of public assistance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. airline industry is booming: United earned $1.97 billion net income in 2014.  Yet United and other airlines continue to squeeze the food workers in their supply chain, paying catering companies an average of only $2.50 per passenger for food—nearly $2.00 less than 2001 rate for similar services.   As profits soar, catering workers are seeking their fair share.

For more information on the campaign, visit www.nickelaticket.org.

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