Ameristar workers appear before Indiana Gaming Commission on “part-timer” crisis

Workers call for investigation of growing state tax burden from staff cuts in one of Indiana’s most profitable industries

(Indianapolis, IN) – Workers from Ameristar casino in East Chicago traveled to the State Capitol today to appear before the Indiana Gaming Commission to raise concerns about the casino’s increasing reliance on part-time workers, despite Ameristar awarding more than $10 million on bonuses and stock awards to its top corporate officials. Workers testified to the personal impact of Ameristar aggressively cutting worker hours and the tax burden to the state when employees lose income and health benefits due to their part-time status. Workers called on the Indiana Gaming Commission to investigate how many Ameristar employees have enrolled in any public assistance programs as a result of having been shifted from full-time to part-time status.

“After 13 years of service, Ameristar cut me to part time and I lost my benefits,” says Christinia Davis, a Buffet Server at Ameristar Casino, who has racked up more than $100,000 in medical bills from recent major surgery. “I’m proud to say that I haven’t had to rely on state aid for more than a decade now because of this job, but with my part-time status that may all change.”

Christinia is just one of many area casino workers who has seen her hours cut in recent months. 30% of the unionized staff at Ameristar are now working part-time and are not eligible for health benefits. The average buffet beverage server at Ameristar currently makes $9.85 an hour, meaning an employee who works part-time at 28.5 hours a week at part-time status, has a gross annual income of $14,598. At that level, one would fall below the federal poverty line as a head of a two-person household and qualify for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Hoosier Healthwise, Indiana’s health insurance program for low-income families.

By contrast, Ameristar’s top executives have done well in recent months, and freely admit their intent to rely more and more on part-time workers to boost corporate profitability.

“We’ve made a big shift from full-time to part-time labor, which gives us a lot more flexibility in scheduling,” said Gordon Kanofsky—an Ameristar CEO and Vice Chairman, who earned $3,836,470 in total compensation in 2009—on an earnings call with investors.

The Indiana Gaming Commission is charged with regulating and issuing licenses to Indiana riverboats, on the premise that these casinos “promote the most economic development in a home dock area,” that “best serve the interests of the citizens in Indiana.” Casino workers called on Commission members to assess whether Ameristar still meets that criteria by investigating the negative economic impact and tax burden of Ameristar’s reliance on part-time workers.

“When gaming came to East Chicago over a dozen years ago, these casinos were supposed to provide good jobs to replace the ones that were moving overseas,” says Jami Peterson, a bartender at Ameristar East Chicago. “Instead, my coworkers are going to the state to get food stamps, partial unemployment or healthcare.”

UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana.
Workers from Ameristar available for interview.
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Gutierrez honors Congress Hotel Strikers at 7th Anniversary Rally

Chicago, IL—Today, strikers at the Congress Hotel, joined by hundreds of community supporters and members of UNITE HERE Local 1, rallied outside the Congress Hotel to commemorate the 7th Anniversary of the Congress Hotel Strike, now the longest hotel strike in American history.

The event, led by keynote speaker Congressman Luis Gutierrez, gave recognition to the strikers who are immigrants to the United States and honored them for their struggle to lift job standards for all workers in the Chicago hospitality industry. In so doing, strike supporters at the rally called both for an end to the strike at the Congress Hotel and immigration reform in the United States.

An overwhelming majority of the courageous individuals who have led the longest hotel strike in American history at the Congress Hotel are immigrants to the United States. Working families in Chicago have made astounding gains in recent years because the Congress strikers have refused to settle for substandard wages. At the time that the strike began, Chicago housekeepers were making just $8.83 an hour, compared to $14.60 an hour today. The strikers at the Congress Hotel stand as a powerful example of how immigrant workers in the United States are leading the fight to raise standards for low-wage workers in the service industry and beyond.

“The United States was built by immigrants, who came here and fought to make jobs in this country better,” said Henry Tamarin, the President of UNITE HERE Local 1—the union of hospitality workers in Chicago. “The Congress Hotel strikers continue that tradition today.”

On June 15, 2003, members of UNITE HERE Local 1 working at the Congress Hotel went out on strike after the hotel decided to freeze wages until 2010, refused to pay healthcare premiums for its employees (effectively eliminating employee healthcare benefits), and demanded the ability to subcontract out all bargaining unit work at the hotel. To ensure that hotel jobs in this city are strong, family-sustaining jobs, Congress strikers have taken the fight to the streets of Chicago, New York, the Philippines, and around the world. There are about 60 active remaining strikers, who both actively picket the Congress hotel and lead campaign statewide to bring an end to the Congress Hotel Strike.

Since the time that negotiations began, the Congress Hotel has never offered a proposal with increases in wages or the company’s share of healthcare costs from the rates listed in the contract that expired in 2002.

“It’s been hard over the last few years, but I’m doing this for my kids—and for all the other hotel workers with families in this city. I want to leave things better for those who come after me,” said Dolores Contreras, a single mother of three and a striker who worked at the Congress Hotel as a banquet server before the strike began.


Protests cloud Hyatt’s first shareholders meeting

National labor and gay rights controversies come home to roost for Chicago-based Hyatt

(Chicago, IL) – Just six months after becoming a publicly traded company, Hyatt Hotels (NYSE: H) is already facing sharp criticism at home in Chicago and across North America. Today, over one hundred religious leaders and hotel workers held protests outside Hyatt’s first annual shareholders meeting at Hyatt McCormick Place, outraged at how the company is trying to make the recession permanent for workers despite significantly improving industry conditions and Hyatt’s rising share values.

A delegation of over 40 Chicago-area religious leaders went to confront Hyatt’s top decision makers at the shareholders meeting.

Inside the meeting, a former Hyatt housekeeper from Boston, who was fired in August 2009 and replaced by an outsourced worker making minimum wage, appealed to Hyatt’s owners and top executives directly. Together, they called on Hyatt’s majority owners and Chicago’s wealthiest family, the Pritzkers, to not leave workers behind as the company moves forward. Last November, in one day the Pritzkers cashed out over $900 million as part of Hyatt’s Initial Public Offering.

The demonstrations signal a deepening crisis for Hyatt among its core constituencies, including Hyatt workers, religious organizations across the country, and gay rights activists, who fault Hyatt for courting LGBT customers while refusing to sever ties with Doug Manchester—a Hyatt owner and key funder of the initiative to ban gay marriage in California. Today, workers and community allies held simultaneous demonstrations protesting Hyatt in Chicago, Vancouver, Honolulu, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In city after city, Hyatt has used the economy as an excuse to roll back benefits for its hardworking employees and lock workers into a recession for years to come.

On Tuesday, June 8, four hundred hotel workers at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco went on strike, and protests in Chicago come just days after hundreds of workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago walked off the job in protest of worsening working conditions at Chicago’s largest downtown hotel. Hyatt also sparked a national controversy in 2009, when in Boston, Hyatt fired all of its housekeepers (approximately 100 of them), replacing them with subcontracted workers being paid minimum wage.

“I gave my body—everything I have—to that hotel, and Hyatt disposed of us like we were trash,” said Lucine Wiliams, who worked at the Hyatt Regency Boston for 21 years, before Hyatt fired her on August 31, 2009. Williams traveled to Chicago and participated in the shareholder’s meeting as a proxy, where she appealed directly to Hyatt’s top decision makers.

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. In the six months following Hyatt’s November initial public offering Hyatt’s shares were up over 65% (IPO on 11/5/09 at $25; 5/5/10 traded at $41.86). Despite these trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. While this marks a trend involving several major hotel companies, Hyatt is the starkest example.

“Hyatt has become an emblematic obstacle to our nation’s economic recovery,” says Rev. Calvin S. Morris, Ph.D. and Executive Director of the Community Renewal Society, who led a delegation of dozens of religious leaders into the shareholders meeting. “I’m here today with leaders from many congregations and many faiths to send a message to Hyatt’s owners that we will not sit idly by as Hyatt locks hardworking housekeepers, dishwashers, and doormen into a recession, while one of the wealthiest families in America gets wealthier.”

UNITE HERE International Union represents 300,000 workers in the hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry, and airport industries across North America.