Rivers Casino Workers Ratify Their First Contract

NYHTC — November 28, 2018

HTC organizers and workers counting the ballots at the Rivers Casino contract ratification vote

An excellent new first contract has been successfully negotiated by our union for the 800 employees of the Rivers Resort and Casino in Schenectady, New York.

It was ratified by the workers with a resounding 98% majority on October 17th and 18th. The casino/resort signed on to HTC’s Greater Regional Industry Wide Agreement (the "GRIWA"), which is our union’s recently established landmark master contract for upstate New York, Northern New Jersey and the suburbs of New York City.

The workers are elated!

As the size of the "YES" vote reflects, Rivers workers were ecstatic about their new contract. At the ratification, union representatives met with workers to review the deal in detail, and to answer any questions employees had.

When the tally of votes was announced, cheers of, "HTC! HTC! HTC!" rang out in the cafeteria, as employees (all wearing their HTC hats and buttons) jumped up and down and hugged each other and HTC staff.

A great job by our staff

The Rivers workers were organized over a two month period in early 2017 by a very dedicated team of HTC organizers and business agents from our affiliated locals working under the direction of HTC Director of Organizing Julia Rybak.

HTC Grievance Manager Joe Messineo has overseen the handling of grievances at Rivers during the period between union recognition and the signing of the contract. Local 6 Business Agent Nancy Hull has been assigned to be the union’s business agent for the shop now that the contract is in effect.

Director of Organizer Julia Rybak explaining the new contract and answering questions

A long hard road to get here

Upon hearing the result of the ratification vote, HTC President Peter Ward signed the contract and had this to say: "It has been a long hard road to get to this point, and it is so gratifying to know that our work has resulted in a fantastic contract that will improve the lives of 800 Rivers workers and their families."

By "a long hard road," President Ward was referring to the 16 year struggle our union waged, under his leadership, to ensure that when legalized gaming came to New York State, the workers in the new industry would be able to unionize without the usual employer interference and intimidation that has become a standard part of American labor relations.

Long before Rivers was even a design sketch, our union, under Peter Ward’s tireless direction, started planning a campaign to convince people to support the passage of a law legalizing gaming to bring good jobs and revenue to our state and ensure labor peace in the new industry. Along the way, by mobilizing thousands of our members in this and other efforts, HTC became one of the most politically powerful unions in the state.

In 2013, after HTC won its first contract at one of the new casinos, Resorts World Casino in Queens, President Ward proudly stated, "We have created a blueprint that will set a standard for future contracts with the gaming industry throughout the state." True to his word, HTC has organized and secured contracts with one casino after another in New York State. Rivers is the seventh one.

HTC President Peter Ward and workers at Resorts World Casino in Queens after winning the first casino contract in 2013

Richard Maroko, HTC Executive VP and General Counsel, was chief negotiator in each of the five casino contracts. HTC now represents nearly 4,300 employees at: Resorts World Queens, Resorts World Catskills, del Lago, Jakes 58, Monticello Racino, Saratoga Racino and Rivers.

The union’s goal was to ensure that casino jobs in New York would be good jobs, with good wages, benefits and working conditions. That goal has been achieved.

The key to this victory: grass-roots union political power

Grass-roots, union political organizing made it possible to unionize the casinos in New York State, and our union intends to make sure our new members exercise their power at the ballot box.

Rich Maroko explained how HTC is building our power with each successful negotiation: "The 4000 union-represented employees at these casinos now have a contractual right to register to vote on property and to go and vote during their scheduled work time - and be paid." He added, "These rights will ensure that HTC represented casino workers have their voices heard in the political process."

HTC General Organizer, Jim Donovan pointed to a lesson for those who have trouble figuring out why American workers’ wages have been stagnant for decades even though the wealthy keep getting richer: "The success our union has had raising the standard of living for casino workers in New York State in such a short time proves that there is no mystery about how to raise workers’ wages and standard of living – just allow them to join unions."

"The Union has been there for me when I needed them, even before the contract was signed. Now it’s my turn to be there for my Union – HTC. I look forward to coming to work knowing that I now have job protections and my voice can be heard."
— Messiah Pompey, Table Games Dealer
"I knew we had a real Union when even before we had a contract they were able to help me with a work related matter. I look forward to paying it forward to my union brothers and sisters."
— Joseph Amadeo, Valet Attendant