Detroit casino union member: ‘Workers deserve more money’

Jamil Johnson has worked at MGM Grand Detroit Casino’s D. Prime Steakhouse for 16 years.(Ken Coleman/Michigan Advance)

By Michigan Advance

December 1, 2023

BY KEN COLEMAN, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

DETROIT—Jamil Johnson, an MGM Grand Detroit Casino restaurant server, said Thursday that he and his colleagues deserve a wage increase and are prepared to continue their strike.

On strike day 44, the morning temperature hovered at 32 degrees as dozens of men and women donning parkas, hats and gloves marched along Third Avenue and Bagley Street, the casino’s points of entry, while a fire pit helped keep them warm.

“Our workers deserve more money and they’re looking for economic justice,” said Johnson, who has worked at the casino’s D. Prime Steakhouse for 16 years. “That was one of the key components to the ‘no’ vote.”

After a month-long strike by unionized workers at MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino and Hollywood Casino at Greektown, the Detroit Casino Council that represents about 3,700 reached a contract agreement. Motor City Casino and Hollywood Casino at Greektown workers ratified their contract on Nov. 19. 

MGM Grand Detroit workers, however, rejected their contract.

And so their strike continues after other big labor disputes in Michigan have been settled, most notably with the UAW last month ratifying big contracts with the three domestic automakers: Ford, GM and Stellantis. The UAW this week also reached a tentative agreement with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

When asked whether the casino strike has taken an economic toll, Johnson said “yes.”

“We’re all out here losing money, as well as MGM,” Johnson said. “We are the ones who make the magic happen here. MGM is just a corporation. We’re the ones who make the money for them–and they are losing money just like we’re losing. So, it would behoove MGM to come to the table with something that our members could live with. Our people have a resolve and they are united and will stand strong.”

The casinos remained open during the strike.

Statistics released by the Michigan Gaming Control Board earlier this month showed that revenue for in-person gaming at the three casinos were down $20 million in October compared to the same month last year — the lowest month for Detroit casinos since December 2020 when casinos were shut down for most of the month because of COVID-19 restrictions.

An MGM Grand Detroit communications official did respond to the Advance’s request for comment Wednesday, but chose not to offer a statement.

Just after MGM Grand Detroit unionized workers rejected their tentative agreement, which included an immediate 18% pay raise on average, Matt Buckley, president and COO of MGM Resorts Midwest Group, called the union’s rejection “disappointing.”

Johnson, who is a member of the union’s negotiation committee, confirmed that contract talks continued on Thursday.

“A lot of people feel that because of the market share that MGM Grand has that they can pay a little more,” Johnson said.

READ MORE: Union to Detroit casinos: Quit ‘gambling’ with livelihoods

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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CATEGORIES: LABOR POLITICS | POLITICS

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