More than 675 employees from Gateway casinos in the Okanagan region in British Columbia voted in favour of strike action last week. Unless they receive a new proposal from their employer, workers threaten to hit the picket lines which could close four facilities, including Kelowna’s Playtime Casino.
On Friday, the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) announced in a press release that employees at Cascades Casinos in Penticton and Kamloops, Playtime Casino in Kelowna, and Lake City Casino in Vernon have approved strike action. In the vote, held between June 4 and June 6, unionized workers from these four casinos had to decide whether to walk off their jobs after negotiations between the union and Gateway Casinos and Entertainment broke off in May. According to the BCGEU, a little over 88 per cent of the employees at these facilities took part in the vote and they overwhelmingly supported strike action.
A total of 93.1 per cent of the voters were in favour of a labour strike, so strike preparations began immediately. Workers could hit the picket lines this week if Gateway does not offer them better conditions and increased wages. The talks over a new collective agreement were cancelled a few weeks ago when the employer refused to give wages considered an “industry standard in comparable casinos”, according to the labour union. BCGEU President Stephanie Smith said that workers will not settle for less than they deserve, whereas Gateway’s latest proposal does not even match the planned increases in minimum wages.
Okanagan’s Four Biggest Casinos at Risk of Closure
The employees who voted in favour of a strike work at four Gateway’s casinos in Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. One of these gaming facilities is Playtime Casino in Kelowna, one of the largest casinos in the region, which has more than 450 slot machines, a large number of table games and a modern poker with four Texas Hold’em tables. Vernon’s Lake City Casino has 400 slot machines, as well as various gaming tables, and there are hundreds of slots and table games at the two Cascades-branded casinos in Penticton and Kamloops.
According to data from Kamloops Tourism, last year, the city reported record-breaking visitors numbers in June. Also, Kamloops receives around 10 per cent of the gaming revenue of the casino and Chances Gaming Centre. This amounts to roughly $2 million a year. The figures for the rest of the Gateway casinos in Okanagan Valley are just as attractive to towns and municipalities. With the tourist season already started at the beginning of June, the upcoming weeks are extremely important for both casino operators and city coffers. Should strike action is announced, these facilities would cease operations and close.
This should give unionized workers a certain advantage in the negotiations with Gateway. The company operates a large number of gaming facilities in Canada, as well as the four Okanagan casinos in question. Workers’ last contracts expired on September 30, 2017, and since then, the union has been negotiating a new collective agreement with the employer.
Meanwhile, the labour strike at Hard Rock Casino Vancouver in Coquitlam continues. Around 400 workers represented by BCGEU are striking but the casino is still partly operational, with an agreement struck between the union, the venue and third-party event organizers. The facility is being managed by another operator, Great Canadian Gaming Corporation.