Detroit casinos, unions report progress in talks

The Detroit News

The Detroit casinos and their unions reported making progress this week in contract talks as they searched for ways to cut health costs without significantly affecting employees’ insurance coverage.

Negotiations between the Detroit Casino Council, the umbrella organization for four employee unions, and MGM Grand, MotorCity and Greektown casinos had bogged down over health care costs.

“After four days of meetings, the Committee has made significant progress this week,” the labor council said in a Thursday bulletin.

The council is a combination of United Here Local 24, UAW Local 7777, Teamsters Local 372 and the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 324 that represents about 6,000 workers.

A spokesman for the three casinos said the unions presented a counter-proposal Thursday during negotiations.

“This latest proposal was a positive step toward contract resolution,” said Marc Whitefield, who represents MGM, MotorCity and Greektown casinos during the talks.

The potential breakthrough appears to center on “utilization management programs” that “help to control costs without changing the designs of the casinos’ existing health-care plans,” according to the casinos’ update on the MGM Grand website. Such programs evaluate the medical necessity or effectiveness of certain health care services.

The labor bulletin only indicated the unions continued to bargain over the costs of the employees’ Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Health Alliance Plan insurance plans.

Whitefield said the casinos need to assess the costs of unions’ latest proposal. The Detroit casinos have increasingly become concerned about their labor costs because of increased competition from four Ohio casinos, especially Toledo’s Hollywood Casino that is less than an hour’s drive from the three gaming halls.

The casinos are scheduled to respond to the unions’ latest offer on Dec. 1, according to the bulletin.

In October, casino workers voted to support a strike option weeks after their contracts expired. The vote meant labor leaders are empowered to take any action needed, including a strike, to help resolve wage, health care and benefit demands.

Strikes were prohibited under the contract between the Detroit Casino Council and the casinos, but contracts between the unions and casinos expired on Oct. 16. The contract is being extended one day at a time until either side ends the extension.

The unions’ bulletin seemed to ask workers for continued patience: “WE ARE STILL PUSHING HARD AND NEED YOUR CONTINUAL SUPPORT!”