|By Keith Benman, The Times, Munster,
Ind.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 18, 2010 --The union at Ameristar Casino wants the Indiana Gaming Commission to investigate how many of its members have been forced to seek public assistance benefits since the casino began reducing many to part-time hours.
"Our point is this is just the opposite of what was envisioned when riverboat gaming came to Lake County," said Unite Here Local 1 representative Tim Barnes.
At an Indiana Gaming Commission meeting on Thursday in Indianapolis, Ameristar union members told gaming commissioners about benefits they have lost since the casino began the work-hour reductions last year.
Buffet server Christinia Davis told commissioners she was reduced to part-time after 13 years of full-time work at the casino, according to prepared remarks distributed before the hearing.
"I'm proud to say that I haven't had to rely on state aid for more than a decade now because of this job, but with my part-time status that may all change," Davis said.
The union contract for casino front-line workers expired seven months ago, with 200 union employees continuing to work under the old contract's terms. The union hopes to address the part-time issue in any new contract it negotiates.
Ameristar continues to negotiate in good faith with the union, with the next negotiating session scheduled for Wednesday, according to Ameristar spokesman Reggie Dotson. However, casino management appeared to take exception to the union's tactics Thursday.
"It's our position that negotiations such as this should be held in a private setting and not in the press or a public meeting," Dotson said.
Dotson also pointed out that the Indiana Gaming Commission on Thursday found Ameristar in substantial compliance with all gaming regulations and approved the renewal of its gaming license for another year.
"We remain committed to the city of East Chicago, the state of Indiana and to our most valuable asset, which are the 1,300-plus team members which help make Ameristar a great place to work and to visit," Dotson said.
The union says about 60 of its members are now working part-time as compared to only about eight just five years ago.
On Thursday, the union compared wages for a part-time buffet server of about $14,598 per year to those of Ameristar CEO and Vice Chairman Gordon Kanofsky, who earned $3.8 million in total compensation, according to the company's most recent proxy statement.
The union says Kanofsky and other executives have made it plain on conference calls with Wall Street analysts that they plan to continue their strategy of relying on more part-time workers to boost corporate profitability.
Majestic license renewal hearing delayed
A much-anticipated hearing on the renewal of Majestic Star Casino's Gary licenses was not held at Thursday's business meeting of the Indiana Gaming Commission, according to those in attendance.
City of Gary officials were expected to air complaints about the casino at the hearing.
The gaming commission is apparently waiting for the conclusion of what is called a three-year investigation of the casino, before acting on its license. The three-year investigations are required for all casinos in the state.
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