Gateway Casinos calls union demands "not reasonable"

By Greg Fry
June 12, 2018 - 11:05am Updated: June 12, 2018 - 3:10pm

KAMLOOPS — Gateway Casinos has penned an open letter to the community of Kamloops detailing its side in the labour dispute with its unionized workers.

Last week, nearly 700 BC Government Employees Union (BCGEU) workers in Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon voted 93.1 per cent in favour of strike action.

More than 200 of those members are employed at Cascades Casino in Kamloops.

President Stephanie Smith said the strike vote came after negotiations for a new collective agreement broke off in May when the employer refused to offer wages and benefits that are "industry standard at comparable casinos."

But in its letter, Gateway counters that they are unhappy it's come to that.

"We're really frustrated and obviously disappointed that they've moved to take a strike vote," says Gateway's Director of Public Relations Tanya Gabara. "We've been extensively trying to meet with the union to get an agreement for our employees; it's been a long time coming."

The open letter goes on to allege that in early 2018 the union walked away from the table after proposing "a shocking 62 per cent average increase in wages with some positions increasing over 80 per cent, on top of significant increases to benefits."

Gateway noted that these increases are "in addition to the generous tips the majority of these unionized positions receive from customers," adding the 60 to 80 per cent wage increase demands are "not reasonable for any business."

In addition to that, Gateway says claims by the union president that casino service providers are raking in "billions of dollars," is false and does not take into account a BCLC Community Impact Report which states $0.88 of every dollar played in BC goes back into the province and funds important services like health care and education.

Not surprisingly, Smith took issue with the contents of the letter.

"I have had a look at it and it's unfortunate. I mean certainly our recollection of how bargaining is going is quite different from them. I just want to say unequivocally we never refused to meet with the employers. Some of the delays were just logistics, trying to get 11 people and their schedules together to meet."

She also didn't dispute wage demands made by the union.

"When you have extremely small dollar amounts those percentages certainly do increase," Smith said. "Members at these casinos are earning minimum wage and the last proposal from the employer would not have kept our members ahead of the minimum wage increases that are being proposed by the government."

And while Smith says, "it's certainly true that a portion of the proceeds of gaming in B.C. does go to very important public services," she claims she was quoted out of context.

"My context was that the industry itself is a profitable one, and all we're asking for is recognition that it's the workers at these casinos that contribute to that profitability."

Despite the differences, both Gabara and Smith say they remain hopeful that mediation scheduled for later this week will lead to a deal.

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