Strike at casino enters 12th week as company, union trade jabs

Gateway Casinos and the union representing about 200 striking workers at Cascades Casino in Kamloops continue to roll snake eyes in contract negotiations, with both parties releasing statements expressing continued disappointment.

About 675 members of the B.C. Government Employees’ Union working at casinos in Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon have been on the picket line since June 29.

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BCGEU members work in table games, as slot attendants, cashiers, in the count room, kitchen, security, guest services and maintenance.

The union claimed a lack of transparency as reason for the latest breakdown in talks, which were held over four days last week after five weeks without any communication.

The union and the company have been far apart on wages — the main stumbling block in negotiations to date. According to the BCGEU, its bargaining committee walked away from the table when the company refused to disclose financial information and made an unfair contract offer.

“Gateway says they can’t afford to pay our members in the Okanagan the living wage we are asking for, but when we asked them to prove it by showing the mediator the company’s financials, they refused,” BCGEU president Stephanie Smith told KTW in an email.

“How can our members trust Gateway’s claims when they refuse to let a third-party mediator verify them?”

She said Gateway’s most recent offer would have its members earning well below wages casino workers are making in the Lower Mainland for the same work, noting most would remain around minimum wage by the second year of the agreement.

Gateway spokesperson Tanya Gabara said in a statement that the company offered the union a package that would have every employee receiving first-year increases from seven to 19 per cent.

She said those increases, coupled with tips averaging $8 to $12 per hour, would have had Gateway employees above market rates.

“Our proposal is well above other recent settlements in British Columbia both by government and private companies,” Gabara said.

“Yet, after more than five weeks without discussion, the union continues to propose wage increases of more than 24 per cent. Their wage proposals remain above the wages of even the largest casinos operating 24/7 in Metro Vancouver.”

The union has earlier indicated it is asking for wage increases that average about 62 per cent for its largely minimum wage-earning workforce.

Gateway has not commented on the state of business at the Aberdeen casino.

Some customers have been seen crossing the picket line over the last two months, though the parking lot has been largely empty. Chances Gaming Centre on the North Shore has seen an uptick in visitors.

Smith said the union has “a very healthy defence fund” when asked whether the reserve of strike pay employees are receiving is low.

“We will continue to support our members until a deal is reached, no matter how long that takes” Smith said.

The last contract expired on Sept. 30, 2017.

In August, the union rallied outside BC Lottery Corporation headquarters in Kamloops, demanding the regulatory body investigate Gateway for alleged discrepancies in policy compliance by management during the strike.

According to the BCGEU, it has yet to receive a response from the Crown corporation.

© 2018 Kamloops This Week

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