Unions slam Chicago casino plans, demand living wage for workers

CHICAGO — As the casino finalists face widespread resistance from neighbors and a growing chorus of aldermen, they have drawn the ire of a new group: the city’s powerful labor unions.

None of the three casino finalists have agreed to a collective bargaining agreement for casino or hospitality workers, Robert Reiter Jr., president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, told the city’s new casino committee on Monday. It would be a “slap in the face” to choose a casino without committing to paying living wages, Reiter said – and many aldermen agreed.

Aldus. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Ald. Sophia King (4th), who both represent parts of the Hard Rock site near Soldier Field, were among those calling for the city’s casino to be a union shop.

“It’s very important if this is going to have a snowball chance of going anywhere,” Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said.

The city has required each casino finalist to have union agreements in place for construction and operations before work begins, said Jennie Huang Bennett, the city’s chief financial officer.

So far, only one casino operator has shown interest in bargaining with unions, Reiter said, declining to say which one.

Bennett also confirmed that the city is currently negotiating with the casino’s three finalists, working to secure a better deal. The city is considering a higher upfront cash payment from the casino to float its 2023 budget, Bennett said.

Bally’s proposal for the Tribune Publishing site in River West is the only one currently offering cash, according to city documents.

The aldermen are concerned about the lack of transparency

At the meeting, city officials also addressed concerns from aldermen about the transparency of the city’s decision-making process. Aldus. Brendan Reilly (42nd) demanded to know precisely who in the city had made the call to restrict the proposals to the three finalists.

City commissioners and their teams evaluated the proposals and made recommendations to the mayor, Bennett said.

“I would like the names of the people who voted to limit our options to three,” Reilly said.

Aldus. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) asked why the city doesn’t offer its own sites instead of allowing casino developers to choose potential sites. Bennett argued that developers are in the best position to choose a location based on its earning potential.

Dowell, who has previously said she was against a casino, came with a long list of questions about a casino’s impact on traffic, safety and the Chicago boardwalk. She said she heard little voter support for the Hard Rock Casino or the Rivers Casino at The 78 megadevelopment.

Reilly said residents in his neighborhood, who are neighbors to Bally’s Tribune Publishing’s proposed site, also widely oppose it, citing a neighborhood-wide survey that shows 80% of respondents are against a casino there. low.

Aldus. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), reminded his fellow aldermen that the city needs money to meet its police and fire pension obligations. Saying no to a casino would likely result in an unpopular property tax hike.

Burnett previously told Block Club he “really doesn’t want to be bothered” by a casino, but on Monday called them a “necessary evil.”

“I don’t want to be involved in raising anyone’s property tax. Hopefully we don’t have to do that,” he said.

The city plans to hold more community meetings before the casino committee makes its final recommendation in the next two to three months, Ald said. Tom Tunney (44th), who chairs the committee.

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Michael A. Bynum