Indiana casino workers gear up for tough contract negotiations
Michael Conroy / AP

INDIANAPOLIS—2020 will be the year about 8,000 casino workers across the country will be in contract negotiations with the behemoth, Caesars Entertainment. Betty Marion, 58, has worked at Caesars Southern Indiana Hotel and Casino in nearby New Albany for 16 years. Earning $13.79 per hour after all that time, she had to declare bankruptcy and could not afford her house in Sellersburg.

Betty spoke very matter-of-factly to People’s World in that accent native to Southern Indiana and Northern Kentucky. Not quite Southern, not quite Midwestern, but with a definite twang that reminds you she comes from an area of the country where people are not afraid to fight injustice.

“That aggravated the tar out of me,” Betty said as she described how the low pay and high insurance deductible had her “choosing between food or rent.” She has even had to take on a roommate to share costs. Betty works in the wardrobe department at Caesars and is a member of UNITE HERE Local 23. She signed up about one year ago to be a part of the organizing and bargaining committees. With negotiations on the horizon, now she is getting engaged in the fight for a good contract and respect on the job.

New Albany, where Caesars is located, lies on the Indiana side of the Ohio River across from Louisville, Ky. One of the first casinos in Indiana, the gambling and entertainment hub has changed hands several times. Currently, Caesars Entertainment owns it. However, that company is in the process of being purchased by Eldorado Resorts, and Eldorado is known for its union busting. Caesars CEO Tony Rodio is probably best known for shutting down Donald Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in 2016, resulting in the loss of nearly 3,000 jobs almost overnight. With the Eldorado merger, the company is setting new downsizing targets.

Betty knows the national campaign being waged this year has high stakes for her, but she also knows there is strength in numbers.

Taylor Cox, 29, works at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelbyville, a rural Indiana town about 30 minutes east of Indianapolis. Taylor is a bartender and has worked there for about two years. He also stressed the importance of having control over his health insurance and wages that keep up with the cost of living. Taylor described his co-workers at the casino as people with families, from all parts of central Indiana, and ages from early adulthood to nearing retirement. He underscored how necessary it is for workers to have a say in their workplace, especially when it comes to scheduling. He shared that there is a high turnover rate among employees due to work scheduling not being flexible, especially when workers have children to care for.

The union also recognizes the threats of automation that are looming. UNITE HERE is working to ensure protections for retraining and ensuring those workers will have employment lined up before they are laid off. Along with good wages, health care, and respect for seniority, the union is fighting for protections against sexual harassment. Taylor described the environment in the casino as one where women workers have to be on guard against management and customers alike.

For all these reasons, Taylor stressed the importance of the next few months as contract negotiations take place nationwide and spoke of the need for broad community support. He, along with his co-workers, will lead a delegation to management on March 12 at 3:00pm as part of the struggle for a better contract.

Eric Brooks, community co-chair of Indianapolis-based Central Indiana Jobs with Justice, says his organization is totally behind the Caesars workers. “We stand with organized labor and community organizations struggling to meet the need for quality, affordable health care for working families,” Brooks said. “We are actively committed to building labor and community support for all struggles by working people and allies to better workers’ lives.” Central Indiana Jobs with Justice anticipates supporting the delegation as well as all future actions in support of Caesars workers.


Jason Jones
Jason Jones

Jason Jones is a social worker writing about Indiana. One of his favorite quotes is “I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." -Antonio Gramsci. Jones is a fan of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Beisbol Cubano.