Slot machine workers at Woodbine set to vote on new contract

Woodbine racetrack. Photo: 水野 航平/Wikimedia Commons

Regular service at slot machines at Woodbine racetrack in Toronto could resume in the next few days.

More than 400 slot machine workers have been off the job at Ontario's largest gaming floor since July 14 after the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing the workers, and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) could not agree to a new contract.

This has meant the electronic poker room has been closed, the onsite shuttle hasn't been running, and services at the coat check have been reduced. Temporary workers have been running the slot machines during the dispute.

Members are expected to vote on the new contract on Thursday.

Key for workers have been concerns about fair scheduling, especially for part-time workers, Sharon DeSousa, PSAC's executive vice-president for Ontario told rabble.ca last month. Unpredictable schedules make it hard for them to plan for child care or support elderly parents.

Wages and benefits were also topics of disagreement during the negotiations.

Workers were also frustrated by how the government seemed to ignore their concerns, especially as Ontario considers changing employment laws to help combat precarious work.

OLG is in the midst of a years-long plan to hire outside companies to run operations at its gaming facilities. Private companies run operations at slot machines and casinos in southwestern and northern Ontario and in Belleville, Gananoque and Fraserville.

A new operator for the slots at Woodbine has not been named. Workers have been concerned about how a new operator could impact their pensions. On July 23, the Globe and Mail reported three companies were potential candidates. Liberal Member of Provincial Parliament for Etobicoke North Shafiq Qaadri, whose riding includes Woodbine, told the newspaper he was looking forward to the increased entertainment that could come to the riding, comparing it to Las Vegas.

In response, PSAC questioned why the politician had time to speak to the media, but not to address workers' concerns. "Do we need to call this lockout a fundraiser before a Liberal shows up?" DeSousa asked in a statement the union released on July 26, in advance of a workers' visit to Qaadri's office.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: 水野 航平/Wikimedia Commons

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