On Friday, November 18th, workers from Caesars Southern Indiana represented by Teamsters Local 89, Unite Here Local 23, and Operating Engineers Local 399 participated in a picket training exercise on Main Street in New Albany, Indiana.
The training exercise was planned by the union’s rank-and-file bargaining committee, in conjunction with representatives from the three unions (referred to collectively as the Council), as a way of preparing workers for the eventuality of economic action against the Company should their demands not be met.
The current contract at Caesars Southern Indiana is a five-year agreement with two years remaining, however the economic portion was in place for only the first three years, with the last two to be negotiated mid-contract. This is commonly known as an Economic Reopener, and the conditions of the negotiations are typically outlined in the contract. In this case, if a new economic agreement for the last two years of the contract is not in place on March 1st, 2023, then the strike provisions of the contract are automatically suspended, and aggressive action up to and including a strike may be taken.
At the heart of the issue is a Company that is completely out of touch with the times they are operating in. While employers across the country are voluntarily giving out unprecedented increases in wages to stay competitive, Caesars Southern Indiana continues to push starting rates and wages that would barely have sufficed before the COVID-19 pandemic, let alone in the years that have followed.
“A lot of casino guests assume Caesars takes good care of their employees, but it’s the guests that do that with tips – and that’s only in certain departments,” said Local 89 Business Agent Bryan Trafford, who was originally a Slot Attendant at the casino. “Caesars makes obscene amounts of money but gives almost none of it back to its workforce.”
Caesars Southern Indiana was recently purchased by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). Since then, the EBCI reported the casino and hotel in Elizabeth, Indiana as one of their most profitable investments. Yet the EBCI and Caesars management has no interest in sharing any of that profitability with the workers whose blood, sweat, and tears make it possible.
“Caesars is a poverty employer, and that’s all there is to it,” said Local 89 Communications Director Stephen Piercey. “They have folks who have worked there for a decade or more who only make 13, 14, 15 dollars an hour. It’s outrageous, and that predatory behavior must end.”
At the picket training, one sign read “Payday Thursday, Food Bank Friday”, a reference to a very real situation in which many Caesars employees are the recipients of meals at the very food banks that Caesars Southern Indiana donates to, and touts as a benevolent act. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is unacceptable for a worker at a rich employer to depend on public assistance or the good will of strangers to survive.
Despite being less than four months from the deadline for an economic agreement, Caesars continues to make extremely minor moves in negotiations and remains miles apart from the demands of the membership. In fact, one such proposal was emailed to the Council just minutes before the training exercise began and had such insultingly little movement that it prompted signs and chants of “We got your proposal, the answer’s NO” from the fifty plus in attendance.
In recent negotiations, the Company has repeatedly referenced the possibility of an incoming “Last, Best, and Final Offer”. Based on the movement they have made thus far; a Final Offer would likely remain far apart from what the membership wants. Another sign at the training read “Last Best? March First!” referencing the date the strike clause will be suspended if an economic agreement is not in place.
“Our Council has never been this unified, and our members have never been this eager to fight back before,” said Trafford. “We’re getting closer to the deadline day by day, and if Caesars wants to get an agreement before then it’s going to take a lot more than what they’re doing right now. The ball is in their court.”
Teamsters Local 89 stands with our members, and all union workers, at Caesars Southern Indiana and will do whatever is necessary to win them the economic agreement they deserve. The clock is ticking down to March 1st, 2023, and we are already preparing for it.
Special thanks to other union members who attended the training as a show of support – Tim Morris, Executive Director of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, and a host of Teamster members from Fire King. Caesars workers frequently visited the Fire King picket line to show support during their strike earlier this year. According to Fire King Strike Captain Dale Beanblossom, Caesars workers were there for them when they needed support, and Fire King workers will be there for them in March.