The president of the union representing close to 700 employees at four Okanagan casinos owned and operated by Gateway Casinos & Entertainment says Gateway management’s latest wage offers would force workers to remain living in poverty.
Stephanie Smith, the president of the British Columbia Government Employees’ Union (BCGEU), reached out to NowMedia Tuesday after Gateway management sent another open letter to residents living in Penticton, Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon, the cities where Gateway owns casinos in the Okanagan.
To read Gateway management’s open letter published Tuesday by numerous media outlets, click here.
Talks between Gateway management and the negotiating team with the BCGEU broke off early last week after four days of mediated talks.
Just under 700 unionized employees at the four casinos have been on the picket line since June 29 as the labour dispute has now dragged on more than 10 weeks.
The BCGEU insists the strike will not end until Gateway management guarantees a “living wage” as part of any collective agreement, insisting that many of its current members work for minimum wage or slightly above.
Gateway management insists the union’s wage demands are unreasonable and would see the workers at the four Okanagan casinos among the highest-paid in the industry in British Columbia.
Gateway’s open letter stated their best offer during recent negotiations would see wages increase in all job classifications, ranging from 7 to 19% in the first year alone.
Smith said the wage package presented by Gateway doesn’t come close to meeting union demands.
“Gateway’s most recent offer is neither fair nor reasonable,” said Smith. “In fact, it would keep our members working in their casinos in the Okanagan earning well below wages casino workers are making on the coast for the same work and it would mean most of our members’ wages would still be hovering around minimum wage by the second year of the agreement."
If Gateway management was serious about reaching a fair settlement, they would be willing to open their books during negotiations, but they refuse to do so, said Smith.
“Gateway says they can’t afford to pay our members in the Okanagan the living wage we are asking for, but when we asked them to prove it by showing the mediator the company’s financials, they refused,” said Smith. “How can our members trust Gateway’s claims when they refuse to let a third-party mediator verify them?”
The standard of living in Penticton, Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon remains very high and Gateway makes enormous profit, so this labour dispute will not end until the company realizes it is going to have to pay good wages to the employees who are responsible for generating those profits, said Smith.
“Life in the Thompson-Okanagan is expensive and is about to become even less affordable with a potential 4.5% rent increase across the province,” she said. “Our members working at Gateway casinos simply cannot afford to live in the region on the wages the company is offering.”
The striking workers are suffering without regular paychecks, but they knew there was a good chance Gateway management would refuse to provide living wages and they are determined to remain on strike until a fair offer is presented, she said.
According to workers on the picket line, traffic at all four casinos is down dramatically and the employees are thankful so many residents refuse to attend facilities owned by a company unwilling to pay decent wages to its workers, said Smith.
“We’ve heard the same rumours about how the strike has hurt Gateway’s bottom line,” she said. “Our bottom line is their businesses thrive because of the top-quality services our members provide. They could end the strike tomorrow by paying our members the living wages they deserve.”
Gateway management has mentioned in all its releases since the strike began that the BCGEU’s negotiating team is in no hurry to settle this dispute because senior management are still getting paid, while unionized workers struggle on the picket line.
That’s not accurate or fair, said Smith.
“The BCGEU negotiating team is our members from the casinos, supported by negotiation staff,” she said. “They are working on behalf of themselves and their co-workers who voted 93.1% in favour of striking for fair wages.
“The BCGEU is a membership-driven organization and we have supported our members from day one of this strike and we will continue to support them until a deal is reached, no matter how long that takes.”
No new talks have been scheduled to end the strike.
For more information on Gateway Casinos & Entertainment, click here.
For more information on the BCGEU, click here.