Four unions are backing MGM Resorts International in its bid to open a casino at National Harbor after inking a pact with the gaming giant that could add thousands of members to their ranks.
The unions signed a labor peace agreement with MGM in advance of the presentations MGM and two other casino firms made to a state panel last week as they vied for the right to build the state’s sixth casino. The other casino firms complained they were not given a fair shot to show their commitment to workers
MGM’s agreement paves the way for the vast majority of 4,000 permanent and 2,000 construction jobs MGM says it would create to have union representation, and it prompted many existing union workers to go to bat for the gaming giant’s bid.
Teamsters lined the street holding “Don’t PARX here” signs when proponents of a Parx Casino Hotel & Spa made their pitch to members of the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission.
Union workers from the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor testified before the commission on MGM’s behalf.
The four unions on the labor peace agreement issued a press release saying MGM would “guarantee dignity in the workplace, living wages, and fair health and pension benefits.”
Even the fraternal order of police, Lodge 89, issued a statement saying MGM “has a solid record of cooperating and supporting law enforcement and first responders in the jurisdictions where they operate.”
The union that represents hotel workers in the region, including bellhops, housekeepers dishwashers, laundry workers and kitchen staff, already represents about 1,200 workers at the Gaylord hotel, part of the National Harbor development where MGM would build its casino.
Gaylord workers are deciding Friday whether to ratify a new contract that would pay even some of the lowest level employees, among them housekeepers and dishwashers, $19.55 per hour (about $40,000 a year) beginning in May 2017, according to John Boardman, executive secretary-treasurer for the union, Unite Here Local 25. The benefits include $16,000 in annual employer contributions to health care plans and a pension.
The labor agreement with MGM, Boardman said, would give union managers the opportunity to inform workers at the MGM (should it get built) about their rights to organize. MGM will not thwart the unions’ efforts and the unions, in turn, will not disparage the company or coerce its employees.
About half of MGM’s 62,000 employees are already represented by unions.
“What our deal with MGM does is takes us, these four unions, and MGM, and sets up some ground rules about how the unions are to behave and how MGM will behave in the event the employees move to join a union,” Boardman said.
The average maid or housekeeping cleaner made $12.18 an hour in Maryland last year, or $25,340 annually. The average dish washer made $9.24 an hour, or $19,220 annually.
Boardman said a unionized MGM casino and resort would be a victory for the middle class in Prince George’s. In addition to Unite Here, Teamsters Local 639, Local 99 (engineers) and Local 22 (theatrical stage employees) signed on. “We’re going to have a casino and hotel operation that will put thousands of people into the middle class. It will be a transformative moment in the county,” Boardman said.
The competing casino firms say, they were not given the same opportunity to show a commitment to union labor. Both have relationships with unions at other facilities.
Unite Here and Penn National Gaming, which plans a casino resort at Rosecroft Raceway, have butted heads for years over Unite Here’s efforts to organize other Penn National facilities, with the company accusing Unite Here of illegally harassing it and its employees. Unite Here responded by purchasing Penn National stock and forcing shareholder votes to overhaul the way board members are chosen.
Though not with Unite Here, Penn National employees have formed unions at Rosecroft and its Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Md. A member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union testified before the commission on Penn National’s behalf.
“We have union representation across the country at several of our properties (including our existing casino in Perryville) and all three of the casinos that we opened last year were built union and our employees are represented from wall to wall by unions,” Penn National spokeswoman Karen Bailey said in an e-mail.
For its Prince George’s proposal, Bailey said Penn National had no record of being approached by Unite Here, saying the union has a “long history of hostility and antagonism towards our company and this is by their choice..”
Parx spokesman Marc Oppenheimer said in an e-mail that his company had already committed to use union labor to build its proposed casino resort off of Indian Head Highway and additionally “would sign negotiated [memorandums of understanding] with the appropriate unions.”
Unite Here represents food and beverage workers in Parx’s Pennsylvania racing operations, but not its casino outside Philadelphia. Oppenheimer said Unite Here “did submit a boiler plate document to us, but they have not been responsive to potential conversations about coming to an agreement.”
Boardman denied the other casinos’ claims. “We gave them all the same document that MGM signed. The same exact document. ” For the county and for workers, he reiterated that MGM was the best option. “We are going to reach critical mass at National Harbor with MGM there,” he said.