OCEAN CITY – The six-month contract dispute between the Casino at Ocean Downs and almost 100 union employees has finally come to an end.
After several recent weeks of stalemate both sides met at the bargaining table, struck a compromise and thusly ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that runs until October 2017.
“This deal is a solid step forward for Ocean Downs employees,” said Mishy Leiblum, head organizer for Unite Here Local 7.
“This was the first time the employees at Ocean Downs ever formed picket lines or handed out leaflets. I know the employees are pleased with the results.”
Leiblum believes the increased picketing and petitioning at Ocean Downs in the past few weeks was vital in getting casino officials to agree to a return to the bargaining table, after they had drawn a proverbial line in the sand with a proclaimed “final offer,” which the union overwhelmingly rejected by a 91% margin, back in March.
Joe Cavilla, general manager at Ocean Downs, said he is looking forward to getting things back to normal. He argued the casino’s commitment to resolving the dispute was what led his side back to the bargaining table, and not the increased picketing, nor the prospect of having protesters standing outside during the summer months.
“We are very pleased and think that it is a good result,” said Cavilla, “but, ultimately, we are excited to get back to serving our customers and providing the best gaming experience on the shore.”
Union employees had been out of a contract since October 2015 and now will resume their regular work schedules with a few new incentives to their contracts.
The new agreement includes wage increases of 3 percent on the worker’s anniversary dates of employment, an increase in the employer’s contribution to the employees’ Health Savings Accounts, a paid 30-minute meal break and an added holiday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day). The union had asked for as much as a 6-percent step increase during the early stages of negotiations and as much as a 33-percent increase in starting pay, according to Cavilla.
Union officials pointed to the casino’s rising revenues in each of its five years in business as a driving force behind the outcry for better wages, but casino officials argued that the seasonal nature of the local economy and the fact the casino continues to employ 85 percent of its’ workforce in the offseason, when its revenues dip over 42 percent, as the main factor in keeping things as they were in the previous contract.
Yet, in the end, the union settled for what the casino already offers: a 3-percent annual raise after the year-anniversary of an employee’s respective starting date. Leiblum did say, however, that there were some improvements to the starting rates for some of the lower paid jobs.
“We were able to work together and get our main priorities met in the negotiations, such as the added health benefits and the paid meal break.” said Leiblum.
Employees will start getting paid for their 30-minute meal breaks on May 15 and the added benefits are deemed retroactive.
The Casino at Ocean Downs generated $4,471,371 from slot machines in March, and its gross gaming revenue per unit per day was $180.06. During that month alone, the 800-slot machine casino saw revenues increase by $448,655, or 11.2 percent, from March 2015.