Caesars Entertainment in Windsor Ontario; hotel, casino, eateries, concerts and shows, all non-operational for 60 days as Unifor Local 444 members and management attempt to reach a deal on their most recent collective agreement. What were the issues? Wages, unsatisfactory agreement terms, pensions and working conditions.
The members, along with their union, had been in negotiations with Caesars Entertainment leading up to the strike deadline. The week prior to the deadline a tentative contract was presented which members rejected at a rate of 59%. Financial security and gains appeared to be at the forefront of the rejected agreement; at the top of the list of issues was fair wages; Doug Boughner, local 444 3rd vice president, said that “members wanted a bigger raise than the employer was willing to accept” (Caesars Windsor casino workers strike, 2018). At the time, members were looking for a raise comparable to other casinos and in line with the upcoming increase to minimum wage. Caesars Windsor had proposed a $1.75 per hour pay rate increase over 3 years, as well as added signing bonuses for new employees and an increase to pensions of 1%. To the members this was not enough. With the recent closure of one of the eateries at the casino, members were also looking for job security. They wanted to know that their jobs were protected from closure or outsourcing for the duration of the agreement.
April 6, 2018 was day one of the strike. As 2,300 dealers, cooks, housekeepers and janitors prepared walked off the job, and as management prepared to shut down operations, they had to cancel reservations at the hotel, postpone 12 concerts and events, and render the casino non-operational. For how long no one knew.
On April 18, 2018 both sides went back to the bargaining table, but talks quickly broke down, as is often the case with distributive bargaining. It took until May 15 for the parties, with help from a provincial conciliator, to resume talks. After lengthy negotiations they presented another contract to the members, which was once again rejected by 53%. This contract offered an increased signing bonuses for all workers, kept the pay increase in line with the initial agreement, but added a 4th year at an extra $0.50/hr increase, bringing the total to $2.25 over 4 years (Hill, 2018). Membership was upset that the strike had not been resolved and many of them indicated they wished they had more time to consider the deal before needing to make a decision. “There was no consensus on why union members rejected the latest proposal. For many, it was the additional fourth year on the contract they did not want. Some complained the wage increases were too low, while others complained of poor working conditions, job security or pension concerns” (Battagello, 2018). Johanna Weststar, a professor at Western University who specializes in Industrial Relations noted “the sheer size of the bargaining unit and the variety of occupations involved are likely making it difficult for union leadership to get a deal their members like” (Ensing, 2018). She also pointed out that many of the striking workers disagreed with each other over the terms and what was being presented. She added ‘it makes communication to the membership more complicated because you have many more issues to deal with, many more people to bring onside and many more people to sort of make sure that they are getting something that they need in the contract”.
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Both sides met privately with a provincial mediator at the end of May, and went back to the tables on June 02, 2018 for another round of negotiations. These talks were attended by the mediator, as well as the Unifor National President, Jerry Dias, and the regional Caesars Entertainment President, Kevin Laforet. After eight hours of negotiations they had come up with a contract they were hopeful would meet the needs of the members. The striking members voted 75% in favour of the latest deal, and were excited and ready to return to work. With the help of the provincial mediator, the parties finally agreed on a 3 year, rather than a 4-year contract which had previously been rejected. The financial gains were the same as noted in previous contracts with a wage increase of $1.75. Signing bonuses for full time, part time and casual employees remained the same ($1600, $1200 and $675 respectively). Assurances that no existing food outlets would be closed and that no department would be eliminated or outsourced during the three-year term added job security for the members. “It took 60 days of striking and three attempts at a deal, but the longest labour dispute in Caesars Windsor history was finally over” (Chen & Wilhelm, 2018).
The media and community were highly involved during the strike. Many news outlets, both in and out of Windsor, were reporting on the issues and progress. While management from Caesars rarely commented, Unifor was vocal with the media. In addition, they held several community rallies to show support for the striking workers and to attempt to gain visibility in the public.
There were several instances of power imbalance between a variety of parties involved. In the management/union relationship, Unifor was eager to resume negotiations and continue bargaining while Caesars Management was more reluctant to get back to the table. Kevin Laforet, Regional President, Caesars Entertainment, said on more than one occasion that they would not be returning to the tables. Early in May, Caesars cancelled all shows and hotel reservations booked for the remainder of the month, which sent the message to members and the community that they were not ready to settle. This showed that they were prepared to let the strike continue and that they were playing hard-ball. This would have placed immense pressures on the organization as they were not able to make any profits during this time but they seemed steadfast in their decision. The union saw this as an attempt to “turn the public against the workers, which they described as shameful” (Chen, 2018). The other source of power imbalance was between the union executives and the members. This became evident when Cassidy, at public rallys spoke about his poor relationship with Laforet, and how he was disappointed that the mayor of Windsor had not been more involved and tried to get the strike ended quicker. He wanted to place the blame on everyone but the union, and when done in such a public venue, seems he is the voice of the members, and they need to go along with him. After the fact, many of the union members voiced their concerns with not being given time to consider options and felt they should have accepted deals previously offered (Caesars Windsor casino workers strike, 2018). It was also noted that the relationship between the parties was strained; Cassidy said “it’s no secret he hasn’t had a good relationship with Kevin Laforet, regional president of Caesars Entertainment, and quite frankly, I don’t give a damn” (Chen, 2018).
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It took two failed attempts at collective bargaining, but in the end, the parties became effective negotiators. Twice they went to the table and worked out a contract to present, and twice this was rejected by members. Once the mediator got involved, met with both parties individually, and got talks restarted there appeared to be a commitment to ending the strike. By having the presidents from both sides present during the final round of bargaining it seemed to members that this time a fair agreement may be reached. Both the Union and Caesars had pressures from outside to settle and resume normal operations. Caesars Windsor is one of the driving forces for tourism in Windsor, and this shut down made many in the community concerned about the possible blow to tourism. 2.3 million people visit the casino each year, and in turn generate business for many other attractions in the Windsor area. Many of these restaurants, wineries, and attractions were worried about, and felt the impact of fewer visitors during this time (Thompson, 2018). Additionally, as the strike went on, many of the striking workers worried about how long they would be without a paycheque, and limited their spending within the community.
It would seem that the strike at Caesars could have been greatly shortened or eliminated had Unifor had a clearer understanding of what the members truly wanted in this situation, and had the members themselves been in agreement. Fair wages and wage increases were presented as the biggest factor in this contract; given the fact that pay increase of $1.75/hr over 3 years, which was originally presented and rejected, was what was finally agreed on, leads one to believe that the union needed to do a better job at understanding what the members really wanted. While they went back and forth on secondary issues, what they finally accepted was what was originally offered. The accident theory of strikes says that “strikes should be unexpected and that when they do occur, they are the result of errors made at the bargaining table, misunderstandings of bargaining goals, or mismatches between the expectations of the bargaining team and the group they represent” (Hebdon, p.278). The strike at Ceasars Windsor seems to have stemmed from misunderstandings of bargaining goals.
The 60-day strike at Ceasars Windsor is a great example of the ups and down of collective bargaining and how important it is for the union, its members, and the organization to understand what the needs and wants of the majority are.
- Battagello, M. (2018, May 19). Caesars Windsor workers reject new tentative agreement. The Windsor Star, Retrieved from https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/caesars-windsor-workers-vote-on-new-tentative-agreement
- Caesars Windsor casino workers strike. (2018, April 6). Caesars Windsor casino workers strike. Unifor National, Retrieved from https://www.unifor.org/en/whats-new/news/caesars-windsor-casino-workers-strike
- Chen, D. (2018, May 8). ‘A rotton shame. Unifor 444 calls out Ceasars Windosr management, city mayor. The Windsor Star, Retrieved from https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/a-rotten-shame-unifor-local-444-calls-out-caesars-windsor-management-city-mayor
- Chen, D. & Wilhelm, T. (2018, June 4). Strike over: ceasars Windsor workers agree to new contract, casino to reopen Thursday. The Windsor Star, Retrieved from https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/caesars-windsor-workers-to-vote-on-tentative-agreement-for-a-third-time
- Ensing, C. (2018, May 24). Caesars deal difficult because of variety and number of jobs, says prof. CBC News, Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/caesars-negotiations-western-universty-insight-1.4676082
- Hebdon, R. (2016). Industrial Relations in Canada, 3rd Edition. [Cengage]. Retrieved from https://cengage.vitalsource.com/#books/9780176728786/
- Hill, S. (2018, May 22). Unifor looks to regroup Tuesday, to end the longest strike ever at Ceasars Windsor. The Windsor Star, Retrieved from https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/strike-at-caesars-windsor-now-its-longest-labour-disruption
- Thompson, D. (2018, May 02). Local tourism to take a blow as caesars Windsor strike enters its 4th week. Casino Reports, Retrieved from http://www.casinoreports.ca/2018/05/02/local-tourism-to-take-a-blow-as-caesars-windsor-strike-enters-its-4th-week/
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