Since May 8, almost 1,000 casino workers have been locked out of their workplace at Casino Woodbine in Etobicoke, Ontario. The casino workers are represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) Local 533 and have been without a contract since March. The union has been asking for wage increases to match inflation, but even more so, they are raising the important issue of part-time workers’ rights. After Local 533 rejected the bosses’ latest offer on April 27, the employer locked out table dealers, cashiers, slot technicians, and cleaning staff. In response, the workers have set up picket lines at the main entrances of the casino, holding soft pickets to raise awareness around their demands. The last rejected offer was a 16 per cent wage increase over four years, a real pay cut since this is less than the current inflation rate.
Casino Woodbine is owned by Woodbine Entertainment Group, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), Brookfield Business Partners LP, One Toronto Gaming, and Great Canadian Entertainment (GCE). The latter recently unveiled their plans to open a massive new “Vegas-style” resort and casino on a 33-acre expansion of the venue, with a whopping price tag of $1 billion. The plans include a football field, likely to be used in the 2026 FIFA World Cup; a residential zone with up to 30,000 homes; a retail mall; and a child-care facility, with future plans to connect it to the rest of the Greater Toronto Area via Metrolinx. Once the building is operational later this summer, Woodbine Entertainment Group CEO Jim Lawson said the opening of the new casino resort would create “more than 1,000 new jobs for the community”. Gambling news website PlayCanada cited estimates that the number of visitors would “double to more than 12 million”. While there is so much optimism about the future of the casino and racetrack, there doesn’t seem to be any promise for improved wages and conditions for their workers.
With 60 per cent of the casino’s workforce being part-time workers who have no fixed schedule and no guaranteed hours, workers are tired of such precarious working conditions and are asking for at least three guaranteed shifts a week—a reasonable demand, which the employer has refused to entertain. Being the lowest-earning workers in the industry—with earnings just above minimum wage, and like other workers seeing their wages eroded by crippling inflation—Casino Woodbine workers are demanding higher wages, more full-time positions, guaranteed part-time hours, and a better sick leave plan. Local 533 members are unwilling to settle for less, prompting the employer to lock them out.
The bosses have come out with a social media statement apologizing to casino patrons for the “labour dispute”, requesting their patience as the matter is resolved, and reassuring them that other facilities will remain open. Never mind that only bosses can lock out workers! Responsibility for the dispute lies entirely with the greedy casino owners.
Because the workers are locked out of their workplaces, the employer is using temporary staffers—that is, scabs—to oversee daily operations. This makes it necessary and crucial for the workers to enforce hard pickets to keep out scabs, management, vehicles, and anything the casino needs. Nothing should get in or out of the casino.
The entire labour movement needs to support the Casino Woodbine workers in every way possible, including joining their picket lines. The bosses would have us believe that there is more than enough money to build expensive casino resorts but never enough to provide a living wage for the workers who make these facilities run. The truth is that there is more than enough money for both large entertainment venues and good wages for workers. But under capitalism, the bosses maximize profits by keeping wages as low as possible.
Fighting for COLA, improved wages, and better working conditions is the only way workers can overcome soaring prices and improve their standard of living. Casino Woodbine workers can win these demands if they maintain hard pickets and are backed by the broader labour movement. “The workers united will never be defeated”, as the old labour slogan goes. A strong and united working class can force the casino bosses to back down and can win improved wages and conditions for Casino Woodbine workers.
Picket lines mean do not cross!
Support CUPE Local 533!
Victory to the casino workers!