Ruling Doubles Paycheck for 1,375 Employees at High-Grossing Queens Slot Parlor
Ángel Franco/The New York Times
By CHARLES V BAGLI
Published: October 27, 2013
“It’s life-changing,” Ms. Nixon, her voice cracking, said on Thursday. “I can finally feel relieved.”
After a year of wrangling between management and her union, the Hotel Trades Council, an arbitrator had issued a ruling that would double the average paycheck for 1,375 union cashiers, attendants, waiters, bartenders and security guards who work at Resorts World, the highest grossingslot machine parlor in the country. The decision, issued last week, is to be made public on Monday.
Resorts World, like most slot parlors and full-scale casinos, had long promised thousands of good jobs and millions of dollars in revenue for the state. It was a particularly enticing assurance in the poor and working-class neighborhoods in southeastern Queens that surround Resorts World and the aging Aqueduct horse-racing track next door.
The slot parlor at Aqueduct, the only one in New York City, has been spectacularly successful in the two years since it opened. Yet the average wage for workers laboring amid the clanging electronic slot machines and table games was only slightly more than $10 an hour.
The average pay under a new three-year contract will immediately jump to $20.50 an hour, or nearly $40,000 a year, according to the Hotel Trades Council. Wages will increase further in the second and third years of the contract.
Ms. Nixon, who lives in subsidized housing, said she recently postponed a blood test because she could not afford to pay for it. A single mother, she takes two different buses every morning to take her son to school, before taking two other buses in the opposite direction to get to work. “If I had a car,” Ms. Nixon said, “it’d be a 15-minute ride.”
Peter Ward, president of the Hotel Trades Council, said, “This is the outcome we want, if we’re going to have gambling in New York.”
“We’ve worked to create a situation where the middle class is suddenly within reach of gaming workers,” Mr. Ward added, “not a bunch of minimum-wage jobs where people have to live on the dole to survive.”
The workers at Resorts World will also now be covered by the union’s pension and health plan.
The arbitration decision comes only a week before voters are being asked to approve Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s plan to expand gambling in New York, with up to seven full-scale casinos (containing both electronic slot machines and table games like poker, roulette, craps and blackjack), with hotels, shops and entertainment sites. Resorts World and eight other slot parlors in the state that are connected to racetracks — and are known as racinos — have only electronic games.
Proponents have long argued that the casinos would bring economic development and tax revenues earmarked for education and property tax relief. Critics contend that gambling represents a regressive tax whose costs outweigh any benefits.
At the urging of the Hotel Trades Council, state officials required slot parlor operators to sign “labor peace agreements” that they hoped would ensure jobs with decent wages and working conditions. Mr. Cuomo’s plans for full-scale casinos include a similar requirement.
But if voters approve the casinos, there is no guarantee that casino workers upstate, where unions are weaker, would have the leverage to obtain the same pay as those at Resorts World.
Resorts World is owned by the Genting Group, a Malaysian company that operates a network of casino-resorts in Britain and Asia. It opened Resorts World in October 2011, after bidding far more — $381 million — than two other operators for the slot franchise at Aqueduct. The company spent about $420 million building the casino, which has 4,525 electronic slot machines and 475 electronic table games.
With more than 5.6 million people living within 10 miles of Resorts World, the slot parlor has been crowded night after night.
Resorts World boasts that the giant slot parlor attracts 35,000 visitors a day and more than 12 million a year. It posted revenues of $696.5 million in the year ended in March, 38 percent of the $1.8 billion in combined revenues for all nine racinos in the state.
The electronic slot machines at Resorts World averaged $432 a day last month, far more than slot machines in Las Vegas, Atlantic City or Connecticut.
After most workers signed union membership cards from the Hotel Trades Council, the union and Genting began negotiating a labor contract.
The two sides reached an impasse on economic issues a year ago, so the union invoked the arbitration clause under its agreement with Genting. In making his decision, the arbitrator selected by both sides, Elliott D. Shriftman, considered the success of the business, the paycheck necessary for full-time workers to sustain themselves, their spouses and their children without government assistance, and the company’s ability to pay.
Rather than open its books, Genting conceded that it could pay higher wages.
“We respect and will implement the arbitrator’s award as required and will continue tofocus our efforts on improving our facility,” Kerri Lyon, a spokeswoman for Resorts World New York City, said in a statement released on Sunday.
“This will restore a path into the middle class for workers in that community that has been eroded over the last several years, given the broader changes in the city economy,” said James A. Parrott, chief economist for the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal research group. “You can see a big drop-off in African-American and Latinos working in city government.”