Newly unionized workers at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino in Shelbyville, Indiana, held a demonstration of their power on March 12 as they prepared to enter contract negotiations. The casino workers had recently unionized along department lines, with caterers and bar staff joining UNITE HERE Local 23 and custodial staff joining SEIU. A line of casino managers faced down a room packed with casino workers. The workers were backed by members of other unions, including UNITE HERE, Teamsters, SEIU and more. One by one, workers stood up to tell their stories and demand better working conditions, higher wages and affordable health care from their wealthy employer.
Workers spoke about their struggles to pay off medical debt, the painful choices they’ve had to make between feeding themselves and paying for their prescriptions and the exhaustion they face every day. Canaan Wilson testified that she walks over 30 miles in the casino every day, and too often does so without having a single full meal. She said that her daughter was born with her aorta wrapped around her esophagus, and she faces a daily choice between feeding herself and paying for her child’s medical needs.
“I don’t wanna have to sit and make those choices between what we can and what we can’t do when it comes to her health or when it comes to who eats,” Wilson told Liberation News.
Other workers expressed concern for their coworkers who relied on tips to cover their bills. With the spread of COVID-19 keeping many home, tipped workers are set to bear the brunt of the economic slowdown. Exacerbating the issue, the employer-offered health insurance has such a high deductible that most workers cannot afford to visit their doctor in the first place. One worker told the story of his wife’s struggle with breast cancer — his deductible was so high that he’s still paying off the bills for her treatment today.
Mark Tannenbaum, a member of SEIU Local 1, was furious when he heard this story. “There ain’t no health care here,” he said. “Or the deductibles are extremely high. To the point where somebody has breast cancer, thought treatment was going to get paid for by their insurance, and then it didn’t get paid for? This is nuts!”
Despite their struggles, the workers at Indiana Grand are inspired and ready to fight. “I never really knew what a union was until I came here,” Wilson said. “And once I realized everything they were about and everything they were trying to do, I was like, ‘I gotta be a part of it.’”
After leaving the casino, workers gathered on the front lawn and passed around homemade cookies while singing protest songs and cheering each other on.