Encore Boston Harbor workers win a five star contract

Photo: UNITE HERE Local 26

Workers at Encore Boston Harbor won a historic contract fight earlier this month, securing higher wages, stronger job security protections, and expanded benefits. This new contract covers 1,400 workers at Encore, 1,200 of whom are unionized with UNITE HERE Local 26 and 200 of whom are unionized with Teamsters Local 25. 

Encore Boston Harbor is the second highest grossing casino outside of Nevada and made $729 million in gross gaming revenue in 2022 alone. Despite being employed by one of the most lucrative commercial casinos in North America, workers at Encore were faced with wages and benefits that were substantially lower than that of other unionized hotel workers in the Boston area. Workers at Encore entered this contract negotiation ready to fight for dignity and respect on the job and wages and benefits that were on par with other unionized workers.

Path to Victory

UNITE HERE Local 26 and Teamsters Local 25 workers at Encore include room attendants, facility staff, food and beverage staff, cooks, servers, bar porters, dishwashers, front desk agents, doormen, bellmen, drivers, warehouse workers, and other hotel and casino staff. For David Hernandez, a bar porter and a member of the union’s negotiating committee, the primary challenge was organizing workers with such a diverse set of job classifications and national origins. According to Hernandez, Encore management tried to exploit these divisions by offering contract improvements to only select departments in an attempt to disrupt the workers’ unity. Regardless of his coworkers’ department or country of origin, Hernandez’s goal as an organizer was “to make them understand the value of being a worker at any workplace.” 

An expansive network of organizers across every department at Encore lay the groundwork for this monumental contract fight. On May 24, 700 workers attended a rally outside of Encore to send a strong message to the company that they were united and ready to fight for their contract. For Ritza Mendieta, a room attendant and member of the union’s negotiating committee, the May 24 rally marked a turning point in their contract fight: “In housekeeping department, people was scared at the beginning. When we went to a rally on May 24, people took the contract fight seriously. . .and we decide to continue with this process.”

On June 21, the workers voted 963 to 13 to authorize a strike. In the face of such a unified strike threat, Encore management and the union negotiating committee met for an emergency bargaining session on June 28. Hernandez and Mendieta were both present for the marathon bargaining session and Hernandez remembers that there was “so much heat in the room. . .it took a lot of effort from both parts.” After thirteen long hours of negotiation, the union’s negotiating committee emerged at 1 a.m. with a historic tentative agreement, which was ratified by membership two days later. Mendieta believes that the strong strike threat was ultimately what moved Encore to settle: “We were ready to go on strike and they saw how ready we were to do that.”

Five Star Contract Wins

After years of “providing five star service without the benefits,” workers at Encore have finally won the five star contract they deserve. Wage increases were secured across all departments at Encore. For room attendants like Mendieta, wages increased from $25.28/hr to $27.20/hr, retroactive to April 19 when the previous contract expired. And on September 1, room attendant wages will increase again to $28.20/hr. For tipped cocktail workers, wages will increase by 74%, from $8.11/hr previously to $13.64/hr retroactively to April 19 and $14.14/hr come September 1. Under the new contract, tipped workers like cocktail workers will now receive the room attendant rate for all training, holidays, sick days, and vacation. 

With these wage increases, Ritza Mendieta is thinking about getting a car and taking vacation to go visit her mom. “I know if we didn’t get this contract, I don’t think I could plan what I am planning right now,” she notes. 

Previously, an overly punitive point policy caused job insecurity for many Encore workers. Workers received a point for anything management deemed an infraction, such as being one minute late to their shift, falling sick and having to leave work early, or taking a sick day. After receiving fourteen points, workers faced termination. 

The new contract includes major improvements to this point policy. Workers can now be up to seven minutes late four times every month, which is especially important given that many workers commute between thirty and sixty minutes to work at Encore. When a worker takes sick days, the first three consecutive sick days now count as one point instead of three. If a worker accumulates no points within 60 days of their previous point, that previous point is erased. Finally, workers must accumulate 16 points, rather than 14 previously, to be terminated. These sweeping improvements to Encore’s point policy mean more job security for every Encore worker.

Workers won a range of new benefits, including pensions, a housing fund, legal fund, and education fund. For Hernandez, the housing fund is particularly important because he is currently renting and “it would be a big dream to own my own home.” 

For Hernandez, Mendieta, and all unionized workers at Encore, this contract win means that their five star labor is finally compensated with “five star wages, five star benefits, and five star job security.”

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