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.

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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.

 

Hospitality, casino workers from three cities ask Neil Bluhm to keep his promise for a fair process

[Chicago] – Today, February 19, Chicago hospitality workers and casino workers from Rivers Casino Des Plaines, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, and Sugarhouse Casino in Philadelphia are asking Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm to keep his promise for a fair process for them to decide whether to unionize. Bluhm and his family’s trust funds wholly own the company which oversees the three casinos.

Casino workers have been publicly seeking a fair process to decide whether to join a union since August 2011 in Philadelphia, April 2013 in Pittsburgh, and October 2013 in Des Plaines. Since then, Bluhm casinos have embarked on an intimidation and harassment campaign. Bluhm’s casinos’ oversight companies also gave $515,000 to a group led by an anti-Obama blogger calling itself “Kulture Consulting LLC” in return for union-busting services at the two casinos in Pennsylvania. In September 2013, Rivers Pittsburgh settled 29 federal unfair labor practice charges.

In 2012, Bluhm’s investment management company, Walton Street Capital, told investors it was adopting a fair process policy with respect to workers to exercise their right to seek union representation without intimidation or harassment at properties owned by Walton Street Capital.  A Walton Street vehicle is the majority owner of the Pittsburgh casino.

“All we’re asking is they make good on a fair process,” said Rosaura Villanueva, a dishwasher at Rivers Casino Des Plaines. “But these casinos haven’t been neutral at all. That’s why we decided to come to Bluhm’s headquarters – so they would see that we’re not going to be divided by tactics dreamed-up by anti-union consultants.  We are united for a fair process.”

One of the consultants hired by a Bluhm-affiliated company was Kulture Consulting, whose founder and CEO Peter List is the editor and chief blogger of Laborunionreport.com and a writer at RedState.com. Mr. List’s blog posts regularly attack unions, public sector employees, teachers, and public retirement plans.

“Kulture is a curious choice of consultant for a company affiliated with Mr. Bluhm,” said Carly Karmel, UNITE HERE Local 1 spokesperson.   Bluhm is a well-known Democratic fundraiser, and Walton Street Capital invests retirement funds for many of the country’s largest public sector pension plans.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

Community to Rivers Casino: Halt illegal intimidation tactics imposed on workers

Casino faces 31 unfair labor practice charges filed with federal agency

Des Plaines, IL – Today, Dec. 18, clergy and community leaders from Chicago and the Northwest suburbs are delivering a petition signed by 33 allies supporting employees at the Rivers Casino Des Plaines. Allies are calling on the casino to immediately halt intimidation tactics that would violate federal labor law. Workers are organizing in response to unsafe working conditions, chronic understaffing, and lack of job security. The dispute entangles Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, who is the chairman of the company that owns Rivers Casino.

“As a member of the faith community, I support, and the United Methodist Church supports, the right of workers to organize free from fear and intimidation,” said Reverend Betty Jo (B.J.) Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, United Methodist Pastor at the Church of the Incarnation in Arlington Heights. “We call on the casino to stop threatening workers who are standing up for respect, job security, and dignity.”

Last month, UNITE HERE Local 1 filed 31 unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Review Board (NLRB). The charges show how the company has violated federal law, responding to workers’ efforts to organize with an aggressive anti-union campaign that includes threats, surveillance, and other intimidation tactics.

“My coworkers and I are scared, but I am standing up because I am fighting for my family,” said Kenneth Fung, line cook at Rivers Casino. “I will not let fear get in the way of us making change.”

“Mr. Bluhm and other owners who have profited from the casino must direct management to immediately stop its illegal fear campaign against the workers who helped Rivers Casino become the most successful casino in the state of Illinois,” said Rabbi Brant Rosen, Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston and co-chairperson of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.

Non-union casino workers at two Bluhm casinos in Pennsylvania report similar management-led intimidation techniques. At the Rivers Casino Pittsburgh, the casino settled 29 charges filed against it after the NLRB General Counsel found merit in the charges and authorized a complaint filed against the company based on them. The NLRB is also reviewing charges filed against the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia surrounding the firing of a union supporter.

Furthermore, in 2011, the NLRB found that Rivers Casino Pittsburgh broke federal labor law. The NLRB ruled that the casino “restricted employees’ right to engage in union activity at the workplace, surveilled union activity, and it impermissibly granted a benefit to employees on the day of the election,” according to the NLRB decision.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

Alderman Brookins Joins Airport Workers in Calling for Equal Treatment at City’s North and South Side Airports

[CHICAGO] – Today, Alderman Howard Brookins (21st ward) and airport workers are taking a step to question inequality at Chicago’s airports. Alderman Brookins is introducing a resolution in today’s City Council meeting that highlights the disparity between the working conditions for airport workers at O’Hare Airport, versus workers at Midway Airport.

 “Unless there’s some reasonable justification, people who work for the same company, in the same city, should be paid the same wages,” said Alderman Brookins, leader of the City Council’s Black Caucus.

The resolution calls for a hearing to examine why Hudson News, a retail operator at both airports, is not treating all of its workers equally. Hudson News workers at O’Hare Airport earn, on average, $1.13 more than their counterparts at Midway Airport. Furthermore, Hudson News workers at O’Hare Airport have a pension and job security, while Hudson News workers at Midway Airport do not have either.

“As an airport worker on the South Side, I feel like we’re not being treated with respect because we’re not being treated equally,” said Ovidio Jimenez, a Hudson News employee at Midway Airport for six years.

Airport workers from both O’Hare and Midway airports, who believe that all airport workers should be treated equally, joined Alderman Brookins today to support the resolution.

“I know that airport workers on the South Side work hard and depend on their jobs, just like I do,” said Margaret Shields, Hudson News employee at O’Hare Airport for two years. “And I believe they deserve the same benefits and job security that workers on the North Side get.”

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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.

Rivers Casino faces 31 unfair labor practice charges filed with federal agency, reporting backlash to union organizing efforts and threats against workers

[Des Plaines, IL] –Last week, UNITE HERE Local 1 filed 31 unfair labor practice charges, alleging violations of federal labor law against non-union workers at Rivers Casino Des Plaines. The charges show how the company has violated federal law, responding to workers’ efforts to organize with an aggressive anti-union campaign that includes threats, surveillance, and other intimidation. The dispute entangles Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, who is the chairman of the company that owns Rivers Casino.

In late October, workers began organizing in response to unsafe working conditions, chronic understaffing, and lack of job security. Workers claim that management has, among other tactics, threatened the loss of benefits, ordered union fliers thrown in the trash, held captive-audience meetings, and prohibited workers from talking about the union. These tactics can create a climate of fear, hindering employees from unionizing.

“After speaking out in support of the union, I was threatened by a manager and told to ‘shut up,’” said dishwasher Rosaura Villanueva, who has worked at Rivers Casino for two years. “I was nervous, but I stood up because I don’t want to have to rely on public aid to support my infant son.”

Non-union casino workers at Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh report similar management-led intimidation campaigns. Bluhm is the Managing Principal of Walton Street Capital, which holds a majority stake of the company that owns Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. Bluhm-family trusts hold a majority stake of the company that owns SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, where workers also face an aggressive anti-union campaign. Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh settled 29 charges filed against it there after the NLRB General Counsel found merit in the charges and authorized a complaint against the company based on them.  The NLRB is also reviewing charges filed against the SugarHouse Casino this month.

Federal records show Bluhm’s casinos’ oversight companies gave $515,000 to a radical Anti-Obama group called Kulture Consulting LLC. Kulture’s leader has published attacks against President Obama, stating that the President “has launched a full-out frontal assault on America” and intends to “make the American public bleed.” Neil Bluhm is known as a major Obama donor.

Rivers Casino rakes in the most revenue of any casino in the state of Illinois.  Its investors have received $285 million in cash distributions since the casino opened in July 2011.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

Majestic workers ask Common Council: Why is a casino that isn’t taking care of its workers receiving tax breaks?

New casino project could cost the City of Gary millions

[Gary, IN] – Today, November 5, 2013, about 50 workers from the Majestic Star Casino are attending a Gary Common Council meeting. At the meeting, workers are asking why the City of Gary is spending millions to help a casino that has not agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement covering around 300 workers, and has not agreed to pay what is necessary to keep employees’ current health benefits intact.

Casinos like the Majestic Star were approved by political leaders based on the promise they would bring stable jobs to hard-hit areas like Northwest Indiana. Workers at the Majestic Star have been without a collective bargaining agreement for over a year.

“In recent years, my schedule has been cut down to 35 hours per week. This means less money for me and my family and less money that I can put back into our community,” said Gwen Berry, a cook for 17 years at the casino. “Majestic Star should live up to the promises it made when it opened,” Berry added.

Amidst the labor dispute, the casino is facing a financial dispute with the City of Gary. Previous casino owner Don Barden withheld payments due to the city that totaled about $15 million. While the City recently approved a settlement agreement which recovers $1.2 million less than the City sought from the casino, Majestic Star is asking the City for approval and funding on improvements to the casino access road.

Improvements to the casino access road are part of a Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commissions (NIRPC) transportation improvements plan. The project will include the building of an overpass where vehicles currently have to go under a railroad viaduct and reconstruction of the roadway. The project is set to cost $9.38 million, with $7.5 million in federal funds and $1.88 million in funds from the City of Gary.

“I’m a father of three children who rely on my health coverage. Majestic’s current proposal would cut coverage for myself and my family.  If Majestic is going to get tax breaks and perks, they need to first take care of the workers,” said Alex Mora, a bartender at the casino for nine years.

Lake County has appealed a federal bankruptcy judge’s valuation of the casino’s holdings at $7.4 million. If the county loses, the City of Gary and Lake County will have to pay the Majestic Star $8 million.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers and casino workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

CPS lunchroom workers: Kid-approved fresh food program needs more staff

Worker rally on national Food Day calling on district to address staff shortages 

CHICAGO – This summer, Chicago Public Schools took its school food program in an exciting new direction by nearly eliminating frozen, pre-plated meals from its lunchrooms. Yet, just two weeks before launching the program at the start of the school year, CPS also announced the layoff of 200 lunchroom workers. The results of a survey of 500 lunchroom workers show the impact these changes have had on students and lunchroom workers across the district.

“We have worked hard to get fresh food in the schools, but cooking food from scratch requires more workers, not fewer,” Linda Green, a lunchroom worker for over 20 years at CPS, said in August.

CPS lunchroom workers’ two-year “Let’s Cook” campaign helped usher in CPS’s renewed commitment to cooking fresh food, and 62% of survey respondents say their students like the food better this year compared to last. However, the presence of less lunchroom staff this year as compared to last has led to serious challenges to the execution of the fresh food program:

  • 53% of respondents reported that the lines are longer for students this year compared to last year.
  •  Nearly 60% of respondents who regularly see students in line said that the last student receiving food on average has 15 minutes or less to eat before leaving the lunchroom. The USDA recommends that all students have at least 20 minutes of seated time to eat lunch.
  • 59% of respondents said they had less time to clean the lunchroom this year compared to last year.
  • 43% of respondents have gone an entire day without a break this school year. A further 25% of respondents have worked off the clock without pay.

CPS lunchroom workers take great pride in their jobs and the food they serve to Chicago’s children every day.  Thursday afternoon, a group of workers are rallying in front of CPS Headquarters and calling on the district to address lunchroom staff shortages resulting from the layoffs.  The event takes place on Food Day, a national day of action in support of sustainable and healthy food.  More than 2,000 events are scheduled to take place across the country.

“We are doing whatever it takes to make sure our students get fed,” said Green. “But, this isn’t sustainable. We’re doing our best, but the bottom line is that we need more staff.”

 

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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. Please see attached for survey results.

CPS lunchroom workers to rally on Food Day, call on district to address staff shortages

WHAT: Chicago Public School lunchroom workers rally on Food Day to call on the district to address staff shortages. Workers will deliver the results of a survey of 500 lunchroom workers to the district.

WHO: Lunchroom workers, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 1, will be joined by allies.

WHEN: Food Day, Thursday, October 24 at 4:00-5:00 PM

WHERE:  Chicago Public Schools Headquarters, 125 S. Clark Street, Chicago, IL

WHY:This summer, Chicago Public Schools took its school food program in an exciting new direction by nearly eliminating frozen, pre-plated meals from its lunchrooms. Yet, just two weeks before launching the program at the start of the school year, CPS also announced the layoff of 200 lunchroom workers. The results of a survey of 500 lunchroom workers show the impact these changes have had on students and lunchroom workers across the district.

 

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers and casino workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

This Labor Day, river boat casino workers, allies protest Majestic Star Casino

Casino workers have been without a contract for a year

[Gary, IN] – Labor Day is the celebration of the incredible contributions and hard work of working people in the United States. Today, September 2, in honor of Labor Day, workers from Majestic Star Casino are protesting the casino for a fair contract. The collective bargaining agreement covering around 300 Majestic Star workers expired on October 31, 2012.

Casinos like the Majestic Star were approved by political leaders based on the promise they would bring stable jobs to hard-hit areas like Northwest Indiana. Workers at the Majestic Star receive low-cost, high quality healthcare, which is free for individuals and only $30 a month for families. Workers haven’t had raises since 2011.

“We just want decent wages and to keep our benefits intact for our families,” said Jeri Elliot, Majestic Star housekeeper for 13 years. “Unions built this region, and we’re going to continue to fight to make this region stronger.”

Hundreds of casino workers from Ameristar and Blue Chip casinos, and Chicago hotel workers, lunchroom workers and airport workers who are members of UNITE HERE Local 1 are joining Majestic Star workers to stand together to keep the middle class intact in Northwest Indiana.

On August 20, 2013 a delegation of Majestic Star workers visited the office Cezar “Cid” Froelich, who sits Board of Managers governing Majestic Holdco, which owns the casino, to ask him to ensure that the jobs at the casino stay good, family-supporting jobs.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers and casino workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

This Labor Day, river boat casino workers, allies to protest Majestic Star Casino

WHAT: Northwest Indiana casino workers and allies protest the Majestic Star Casino for a fair  contract for its workers.

WHO: Hundreds of casino workers from the Majestic Star Casino, Ameristar Casino and Blue  Chip Casino will be joined by Chicago hotel workers, lunchroom workers and airport workers who are members of UNITE HERE Local 1.

WHEN: Labor Day, Monday, September 2, 2013 from 1:00-6:00 PM

WHERE:  Majestic Star Casino, 1 Buffington Harbor Dr., Gary, IN 46406

WHY: Casinos like the Majestic Star were approved by political leaders based on the promise they would bring stable jobs to hard-hit areas like Northwest Indiana. Majestic Star casino workers have fought hard to make casino jobs in Northwest Indiana good, middle class jobs. However, workers at the casino have been without a contract for a year.

Labor Day is the celebration of the incredible contributions and hard work of working people in  the United States. This Labor Day, casino workers and other union members from Chicagoland will stand together to keep the middle class intact in Northwest Indiana and ensure that casino jobs stay good jobs.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers and casino workers in the Chicago area  and Northwest Indiana.