The union representing around 675 striking casino workers in the Okanagan region will renew talks with casino management on Friday. The new mediation date is scheduled exactly one week after employees of four Gateway casinos voted in favour of strike action.
With the latest announcement from the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), there is new hope for resolving one of the many labour conflicts that emerged across Canada in the past few months. The union represents 675 casino workers at Cascades Casinos in Penticton and Kamloops, Playtime Casino in Kelowna, and Lake City Casino in Vernon. Last week, it held a vote for its members and on Friday, June 8, it said 88 per cent of the staff at these facilities had approved strike action with a majority of 93.1 per cent.
The talks between the BCGEU and Gateway Casinos and Entertainment, the operator of the four casinos in the Okanagan Valley, broke off May 11. The major issue the two sides could not agree on was wages. The union’s proposal was a wage increase of 62 per cent on average, while the raise for some positions was 80 per cent, Gateway said. The company said it was shocked by such a proposal and very disappointed by workers’ decision to take strike action. Tanya Gabara, Gateway’s Director of Public Relations, called the 60 to 80 pay raise “not reasonable for any business”.
The union does not agree with the company’s assessment, however, and says that in order to bring employees to the “industry standard”, a sizable increase in payment is required. According to BCGEU President Stephanie Smith, some workers at the four Gateway casinos earn minimum wage and increasing their pay would simply keep the levels up with the minimum wage increase planned by the government.
Hopes for Resolving the Disagreement on Friday
On Monday, Gateway said it had requested mediation from the Labour Relations Board so that with its help, it can reach an agreement with the union. Meanwhile, striking workers and BCGEU members rallied outside the offices of the British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC). They presented a petition to the crown agency calling for intervention in the disagreement with the casino operator. The BCLC, however, said it cannot intervene in labour-related conflicts, although it is the agency responsible for the management of gaming in the province of British Columbia.
Workers urged the BCLC to take action and guarantee fairness in the industry. According to them, they deserve wages that are comparable with what casino workers earn in other regions of the country. In addition, they have not been treated with respect from customers and from their employer, Gateway Casinos and Entertainment. Commenting on the mediation scheduled for Friday, the company said it was committed to having “respectful discussions” with the union. The operator hopes to reach an agreement that is “reasonable and responsible” for both sides.
Currently, the four casinos in the Okanagan Valley are operational with workers determined to walk off their jobs if necessary. Their last collective contracts expired last fall and since then, the union is trying to negotiate better conditions for its members. In its statement, Gateway pointed out that a lot is at stake in the Okanagan region. The company reminded in not the most flattering way that the strike at Coquitlam’s Hard Rock Casino still continues with the two sides no closer to resolution than they were on May 11 at the beginning of the strike. Meanwhile, the company says, Caesars Windsor was closed for two months due to a labour strike and after so much time, workers there did not achieve a better deal than they were initially offered.