SugarHouse Casino: Unionizing Workers Hope to Force Management to Sweeten the Pot

By Eric Augenbraun
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 5, 2011

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 PW knew there was beef going down at SugarHouse casino when we reported on the gambling den’s public effort to have its license renewed back in June. However, the depth of that friction was made public today when a delegation of workers, local faith leaders and representatives of three labor unions presented a petition to casino management to publicly announce a union organizing campaign that has been in the works since the winter.  

This morning, clergy members from across the city–including Rev. Robert Shine, Pastor Robert Shipman, Rev. Darrell Cook and Bishop Dwayne Royster–stood with organizing employees as they presented their petition to SugarHouse management and demanded that the casino live up to its pledge to provide good, family-supporting jobs. “The casino made a whole lot of promises to Philadelphia and made a lot of promises to potential employees that they were going to take care of them, provide great wages and that this would be a great place to work,” said Rev. Royster after the event. 

As PW reported during the casino’s license renewal bid, SugarHouse executives and pro-casino groups in the city have been quick to boast that the establishment has created 1,000 jobs during a time of economic hardship. But today’s presentation made it clear that creating jobs isn’t enough. 

Workers allege that many full-time employees earn less than the $10.88 per hour Philadelphia living wage, making it impossible to afford even the cheapest health-care plan available through the casino. 

They also cite rampant favoritism as a cause for concern. “Everybody is treated differently,” says Judy Toucet, who works as a cashier “in the cage” at the casino and was present for today's delegation. "[I]t depends who you are and who you know.” Toucet believes union representation is the only way to ensure that all employees earn a fair wage and have their rights respected while on the job. “Better treatment. Better pay,” she says.

The group dropped off their petition with Leigh Whitaker, the visibly surprised communications director of SugarHouse. Knowing the blowback that typically comes with unionizing efforts, Rev. Shine reiterated: “We must insist that as a result of these signatures there will be no intimidation, reprisals, or retaliation [against workers who attempt to organize].” They also requested a meeting with General Manager Wendy Hamilton. 

While today marked an important step on the path to unionization, the fight is far from over. Looking ahead, workers will likely opt to use the “card check” process for unionization, which requires only a simple majority of employees to sign authorization forms stating their intention to be represented by a union. Unions prefer card check to the secret ballot process since it's considered less prone to concerted anti-union campaigns and other forms of interference by employers. If the organizing drive is successful, SugarHouse workers will be represented by UNITE HERE local 54, which also represents a large potion of Atlantic City's casino workers.

The coming months promise many hours of hard work for union representatives and pro-union employees as they attempt to persuade their co-workers that organizing is in their best interest. Certainly they can take comfort in knowing they have support from the community. 

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