Indiana casino workers hit the road to demand safe working conditions
Jason Jones / PW

INDIANAPOLIS—On Friday, May 15, Indiana casino workers represented by UNITE HERE Local 23, along with Teamsters, United Auto Workers, and SEIU rank and file, drove in their vehicles to form a caravan surrounding the Indiana State House and Monument Circle to pressure their state representatives, senators, and governor to protect the health and safety of all casino workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state plans on reopening casinos on June 14.

At present, casino workers are not receiving income from Caesars’ billions in cash reserves, as the company has pushed the burden of paying wages onto state unemployment agencies. Neither are they contributing to workers’ health care benefits. Although the union is providing coverage currently, the funds will run out in May or June and the workers need commitments for the period beyond initial extensions by Caesars. The virus will not magically disappear by June 14.

Tanda Ems works in Environmental Services at Caesars Southern Indiana. She has been a loyal employee for 17 years and makes less than $15 an hour. She told People’s World that she is participating in the caravan to urge government officials to protect the health and safety of her co-workers, herself, and her children instead of the financial interests of Caesars Entertainment.

Ems has a grandson with a medical condition requiring several expensive medications. She stressed the importance of health care as a human right and pointed out the contradictions of the Republican-led response to COVID-19 in Indiana that puts profits over the health and safety of working people.

Jason Jones / PW

Ems’s job at Caesars puts her in close contact with customers for most of her shift, and she cannot afford to get ill for economic and personal reasons—she has a child to care for. Even though the company has promised to do temperature checks of all the employees, they will not be checking the temperature of the customers and guests.

The union is demanding enhanced health and safety measures as part of the reopening plans that would include temperature checks of customers, physical distancing, and following the guidelines of healthcare professionals. Ems said, “You can’t trust the company” to act in the best interest of its employees.

As Ems spoke about her concerns as a worker and as a caregiver, she mentioned her former co-worker, a security officer at Caesars Southern Indiana casino, Nobby Bostock, who contracted COVID-19 on March 14 and died on April 7. Ems knew Nobby and told People’s World that he had worked a shift at Caesars prior to contracting the virus. Ems said that she was also here to make sure people knew Nobby Bostock’s name and to demand that state officials act to save lives.

Vicky Fowlkes, another caravan participant, is a food service worker at Guion Creek Elementary School in Pike Township on the northwest side of Indianapolis. She has continued working to provide food to families that may not have adequate food at home. She joined the caravan as a member of UNITE HERE Local 23. She understands the importance of affordable healthcare and safety on the job as an essential part of the pandemic response.

Fowlkes participated in the caravan to show her solidarity and support with the casino workers as well as to urge state government to keep all workers safe during this pandemic. She had this message for Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb: “Protect our people and keep them safe.”

The caravan left the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center in the early afternoon. It wound its way through downtown with horns blaring and words written on windshields saying “Don’t gamble with our healthcare,” and “Make casinos COVID safe.”

Workers participating in the caravan are employed at Ameristar in East Chicago, Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Caesars Southern Indiana in Elizabeth, Indiana Grand Casino in Shelbyville, and Majestic Star Casino in Gary. They include cleaners, cooks, servers, and bartenders.


CONTRIBUTOR

Jason Jones
Jason Jones

Jason Jones is a social worker writing about Indiana. One of his favorite quotes is “I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." -Antonio Gramsci. Jones is a fan of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Beisbol Cubano.

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