Casino Labor Dispute Ongoing With ‘More Picketing’ Planned

OCEAN CITY — Union officials claim they have filed charges against the Casino at Ocean Downs for failing to come back to the bargaining table to resolve an ongoing labor dispute.

Yet, whether or not that strategic move will do anything to break the stalemate remains to be seen.

After the employees voted down what the casino called its “final offer” by an overwhelming 91 percent margin in late March, union officials tried to get a third party mediator involved to move forward negotiations to establish a new contract for union employees, who have been working without a contract since October at Ocean Downs.

The casino said it had “no interest” in involving a mediator leading union officials to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“It’s been several weeks now, and we want to get back to the bargaining table,” said Mishy Leiblum, head organizer for Unite Here local 7. “The casino may have made their final offer, but they didn’t tell us that was their final offer when they made it.”

Leiblum says the union has amended demands for better starting wages and annual pay increases for year-round employees, citing the casino’s rising revenues as a primary reason for the hard line on casino’s compensation package for its employees.

“The employees just want a contract at this point,” said Leiblum. “They have been going to work and doing their job without a contract for long enough. They just want something fair.”

The casino believes, however, that what it has offered from the beginning has been incredibly fair.

“We still want to find a resolution,” said Assistant General Manager Bobbie Sample. “From our perspective, we haven’t changed how we are interacting with the union officials throughout these negotiations.”

Seemingly, both sides have tried to meet in the middle in the past, as the casino tried to sweeten the deal in recent weeks with additional paid sick and vacation time offered as well as paid lunches and additional benefits for contract employees once they reach the year anniversary of their employment, and Leiblum says the employees are willing to take “a more reasonable wage package and some additional benefits,” but wouldn’t disclose exactly what those numbers or benefits were specifically.

However, Casino at Ocean Downs General Manager Joe Cavilla told The Dispatch last month the union had originally demanded a 33-percent increase in starting salaries and as much as 6 percent in annual step increases.

The result of little to no bargaining is likely to lead to further picketing at the casino in the coming weeks and as the summer season gets closer. Union officials hinted that the protests in front of the casino could become much more prevalent. Less than 100 of the casino’s 240 employees are members of the union.

“More picketing is definitely in the plans,” said Leiblum. “Heading into the busy season is definitely not the time of year where casino management is going to want to have a public labor dispute. We just want to resolve this with a new contract that is fair.”

This week, casino officials issued a “no comment” statement in regard to the charges allegedly filed by the union with the NLRB, referring back to their comments about contract negotiations in recent weeks.

The NLRB was set up to enforce the National Labor Relations Act, which was created in 1935 to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses and the U.S. economy.

About The Author: Bryan Russo

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Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.