Workers at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago, Indiana, are asking customers to gamble elsewhere until Ameristar settles a union contract that maintains workers’ current Union health care plan.
Union workers had been in negotiations for over two years at three Northwest Indiana casinos: Blue Chip, Majestic Star, and Ameristar Casino, which was bought last year by Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., based in Las Vegas. Pinnacle has proposed eliminating the affordable, family-supporting health care that Ameristar's 200 union workers currently enjoy.
Ameristar refuses to settle – instead proposing a company health plan which charges employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions for family coverage. Under the current union plan, employees pay nothing for individual coverage and $30/month for family and dependent coverage.
"When the casinos came to Northwest Indiana, they promised good jobs. Now they're asking us to literally choose between putting food on the table and our families' health,” says Natalie Mijares, a 34 year old bartender and mother of two at the casino. Mijares, who has worked at Ameristar for nine years, is a union shop steward.
"I grew up in a Steelworker family. That means we’re proud, and we’re fighters. We’ve been in Indiana for my entire life. Pinnacle just got here. I’ll be damned if I let them destroy the standards we built,” Mijares added.
Blue Chip Casino settled with the union in December 2013, agreeing to keep employer-paid union health insurance for individuals and families. In November 2014, Majestic Star workers ratified their contract which allows for workers to maintain their union healthcare coverage as well. Workers cite keeping that healthcare coverage among their top concerns in negotiations for the new contracts.
The boycott announcement has galvanized the Northwest Indiana community, drawing endorsements from Congressman Pete Visclosky, Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor, which represents 42,000 members, United Steelworkers Local 1014, and the United Steelworkers Local 7-1, currently on strike at BP in Whiting, among others.
Ameristar Casino is now the only union riverboat casino in Northwest Indiana to refuse to continue the family-supporting Union health care plan for its union workers.
Ameristar reported revenue of $17.6 million in January 2015. In comparison, workers like Castillo make around $16,000 in wages a year. If the Ameristar health care plan were implemented, nearly a quarter of her income would go towards the company plan.
UNITE HERE Local 1 represents nearly a thousand workers at three Northwest Indiana casino properties: 200 workers at Ameristar, 300 workers at Majestic Star, and 450 workers at Blue Chip Casino.