Union seeks halt to casino job cuts

2012-11-14T17:00:00Z 2013-10-14T15:23:12Z Union seeks halt to casino job cutsDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
November 14, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | A union representing some of the 80 workers laid off last month by Gary's Majestic Star casinos wants the Indiana Gaming Commission to stop casino companies from cutting jobs.

Carly Karmel, spokeswoman for Chicago-based Unite Here Local 1, which represents housekeepers, servers, bartenders and cooks, said up to 10 of their 27 laid-off members will attend Thursday's gaming board meeting in Indianapolis asking "for regulations to stop out-of-state companies from tossing Indiana workers out of their jobs."

"With the layoffs coming just before the holidays they come at a particularly difficult time for the workers," Karmel said. "These workers were given no notice whatsoever."

Majestic Star, which is owned by Minnesota-based Wayzata Investment Partners, eliminated union and nonunion jobs in October because of "regional economic softness, seasonal business fluctuations and increased competition," said Majestic Star spokeswoman Chareice White.

White said the job cuts were part of an organizational restructuring for the casinos' future, "positioning the employee base to better meet the needs of the property and our guests." The Majestic Star now employs 1,344 workers in Gary.

The Indianapolis trip for the laid-off workers likely will be for naught.

Unite Here's request to address the commission did not arrive, as required by the Indiana Administrative Code, more than 10 days in advance of Thursday's meeting to be added to the commission's agenda.

"It was denied as being untimely filed and we're very strict with that," said Ernest Yelton, executive director of the Gaming Commission. "We just don't make exceptions."

However, Yelton said the union or its members will be permitted to submit written testimony to the commissioners. 

At the same time, while the Gaming Commission could hypothetically regulate hiring and firing at Indiana casino properties, Yelton said it has never done so.

He said the commission typically receives informal advance notice of layoffs but only gets involved when a specific job cut may affect casino operations. A commission staff review of the Majestic Star layoffs "didn't see any organizational or operational problems with their plan," Yelton said.

Gaming revenues at Northwest Indiana's five casinos were down 3 percent last month compared to October 2011. The two Majestic Star casinos saw a 4.6 percent year-over-year revenue dip last month.

Overall, Indiana casinos are facing competitive pressure from tribal casinos in Michigan, slots in bars in Illinois and new casinos in Ohio. Yelton said the Majestic Star isn't the first Hoosier casino to cut staff in light of the changing marketplace and sluggish economy.

"I can't think of one casino who has not done a reduction of staff in the last two years," he said.

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