More than 1,200 workers at Encore Boston Harbor will call for a strike vote at the end of June, PlayMA has learned.
In total, 700 employees of Encore Boston Harbor are expected to turn out for a rally near the casino resort Wednesday. The union members are calling for wage increases, a more inclusive pension program, and improvements to worker attendance policies.
What the strike vote process looks like
Carlos Aramayo, the president of UNITE HERE Local 26, told PlayMA in an interview Wednesday that his members are seeking “modest and reasonable terms in our new contract.” The group has more than 12,000 members in the Massachusetts and Rhode Island hotel, casino, airport and food service industries.
“Folks want some real job security,” Aramayo said. “The company has a strict time and attendance policy, much stricter than elsewhere, and (employees) want the possibility of earning pension benefits.”
UNITE HERE represents facility staff, room attendants, doormen, bellmen, front desk agents, food and beverage workers, cooks, servers, dish washers, and other employees at resorts, restaurants and casino establishments. Members also include workers in those jobs at Boston area airports, bus stations and other resorts like Bally’s Twin River Lincoln. The union represents workers in 36 hotels in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Encore Boston Harbor is a luxury hotel resort and casino that opened in 2019. When EBH first opened, it promised to add good-paying jobs that would benefit Everett and employees.
The prior Collective Bargaining Agreement for Members of UNITE HERE Local 26 expired on April 19. This is the first renegotiation on a CBA since the property, which is owned by Wynn Resorts, opened. The last time the two sides met was on Monday.
Encore Boston Harbor workers earning less than at other facilities
According to Aramayo, workers at EBH are earning on average $1.92 less than others working in the same industry. For many employees at EBH, they are making less than what they previously made in positions at other resorts, Aramayo said.
For workers like union representative Monike Martin, the fight for a better CBA is centered on getting a fair wage commensurate with the work being provided, as well as a reflection of the success of Encore. In 2022, CEO Craig Billings earned $12.2 million in salary and other benefits, according to Simple Wall Street.
Martin, who was born in the U.S. but raised in Brazil, previously worked in the cruise ship industry. She is now a cocktail server on the gaming floor at EBH.
“I have always worked in (the) restaurant industry and entertainment,” she told PlayMA. “At first, (working at EBH) was pretty nice, being the biggest resort in Boston, it sounds pretty fancy.
“We’re just asking for basics. We’re working on a property that is a five-star casino resort, and we are the engine that makes that big money machine go. For me it’s a matter of respect. We deserve a five-star contract.”
Martin points out that she and many of her co-workers can’t afford to live in Everett or anywhere near their job. As a result they must commute, sometimes more than an hour. Martin makes $8.11 per hour, a rate that is well below the $14.14 paid to cocktail servers in a resort operated by Wynn in Las Vegas. The cost of living in the Boston area is much higher than it is in Nevada.
If the union votes to strike, Martin says she will likely have to take a part-time gig as an Uber driver and seek server jobs elsewhere. Martin says an average one-bedroom apartment in Everett is $2,000 per month, a price the EBH employee cannot afford.
Employee attendance policy
Martin noted that some of her co-workers have been victims of an alleged unfair attendance policy. Under the EBH rules, an employee gets “points” each time they are late or absent from work. When eight points are accumulated, a written warning occurs, and with 14 points, termination.
But, Martin points out, many of the employees live more than 30-60 minutes away in commute time, and they have families. Even when family emergencies occur, these employees have been penalized under the policy, Martin said.
“We are here to make sure our tomorrow is better than our today, that’s why we are all working, right?” Martin said. “It’s not wrong to fight for what you believe. It’s not wrong to ask for more from a company that makes billions of dollars. It’s not wrong to ask that company to treat their employees better.”
Encore Boston Harbor expansion plans
EBH is the biggest of the three retail casinos in Massachusetts, and it plans to get even bigger.
Last month, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission held a special public hearing in Everett to invite comment on Encore Boston Harbor’s proposed expansion near the casino. A potential strike could throw a wrench in those plans.
The plans for expansion call for an additional Category 1 gaming license for Wynn and EBH, and several additions to the surrounding area. According to Wynn, work could begin in 2023, and the new facility could open by 2025.
The development would add many features, including a poker room, sports betting parlor, nightclub, theater and parking garage. The existing Encore Boston Harbor would connect to the new property via a pedestrian bridge.
The site of the proposed development is across the street from EBH on the east side of Broadway in Everett.