Union Supporters Rally Outside Rivers Casino License Renewal Hearing

Jun 2, 2015

“Stand up, get down, Pittsburgh is a union town!”

That was one of the chants shouted by protesters who circled the Allegheny County Courthouse Tuesday ahead of a Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board hearing for the Rivers Casino, which is operated by Rush Street Gaming, LLC.

The board is considering whether to renew the North Shore casino’s license, a process undertaken every three years.

Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak stopped by the rally to offer support for the ongoing unionization effort. She said city leaders welcomed the casino into the community amid the promise of good jobs.

“So our communities are stronger, so our neighborhoods are better, because you know what? When we all do better, we all do better,” Rudiak said to cheers and applause.

Rudiak said just hours earlier, Council had passed a resolution officially supporting the workers’ right to unionize.

Inside the hearing, the majority of seats were taken up by people wearing neon green t-shirts emblazoned with the Rivers Casino logo on the front and the slogan “I’ve got the best job in the ‘Burgh” on the back.

Rivers Casino spokesman Jack Horner said the t-shirts were made and distributed by the casino. Several workers said they were there to support the casino’s license renewal and that they were invited to attend the hearing by management.

One worker who said she was not invited by management was Hannah Taleb, a slot machine maintenance worker who spoke during the public comment period of the hearing.

According to Jonathan Scolnik of the labor union Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers across the United States and Canada, Taleb was named in a recent National Labor Relations Board Settlement with Rivers Casino, after being disciplined for discussing working conditions with a co-worker.

But Taleb said she was there not to talk about her own situation, but that of a co-worker who had to miss work to take her daughter to the hospital after an instance of domestic abuse.

“When she called they said everything was going to be OK, just come on into work. And they fired her, because they made her make the decision between being a mother and being a worker at Rivers Casino,” Taleb said. “I do think these jobs could be great jobs, but until they’re good jobs for mothers, for fathers, and for families, and we have stability and we don’t have to fear losing our job, then they’ll never be great jobs.”

Taleb said she likes her job and that she is making more money working at Rivers than in previous positions, but that job security is still an issue.

During the hearing, Rush Street Gaming CEO David Patent pointed to Rivers’ competitive wages and benefits as evidence of its commitment to providing good jobs. He said management would support workers’ right to unionize if that was what they wanted.

“Frankly, Unite Here doesn’t like our labor policy because we respect our team members’ right to choose for themselves whether to be represented by a union or not, and since day one, we’ve honored and respected a fair process for our team members,” Patent said.

Scolnik pushed back against such a statement, pointing to a 2011 NLRB ruling which found that the casino violated federal labor laws during a 2009 union election, by prohibiting the distribution of pro-union materials and surveilling employees.

Scolnik said there are currently no immediate plans for a union election, and that Tuesday’s rally was all about raising awareness.

“We want Rivers Casino to stop intimidating and harassing workers when they stand up for their rights,” Scolnik said.