Vernon Lake City Casino workers Dawn Swimmington Waters, Shawna Wakefield, Leanne Gidley, Harpeeet Kuhnkuhn and Mike Patitucci appreciate the community’s support during the strike. Photo: Niki Drodge/contributor

Striking Vernon casino workers staying positive

Strike at Gateway casinos across Okanagan now in its 5th week

The strike signs portray a message of support for Gateway casino workers.

“Be a winner, Support casino workers, Respect our picket lines;” “Help us by not crossing the line;” “Same job, same pay.”

But for those walking the picket lines at Vernon’s Lake City Casino on Anderson Way, the reality of not reaching an agreement on a new contract is hitting home as the strike settles into its fifth week.

Related: Gateway Casinos frustrated and disappointed with strike vote

“As far as our members are concerned, we are holding our heads high and continue to fight for more than just our own personal motivation,” said Chelsea Leece, spokesperson for the Lake City Casino striking BCGEU members.

Debbie Bird and Jordan Donatelli work the picket line Wednesday outside Vernon’s Lake City Casino. Photo: Niki Drodge/Contributor

“This is bigger than just us. We are trying to set a new standard and precedent for all casino workers across the board and all other people as well who work for minimum wage.

“We try to encourage everyone to think about the bigger picture in those terms.”

Leece says the Vernon picketers have received both positive support and negative or apathetic criticism.

Other labour unions, she says, have rallied their support behind them as have many people on the street.

“People drop by and deliver us donuts, water and even fruit trays,” she said.

On the other side, she says Alberta tourists visiting here this summer still venture into the casino not feeling the strike is applicable to them.

Related: Mediation talks break off

“Whether you just go in the casino for five minutes or five hours, you are helping their bottom line,” she said.

From other people, they will hear the “you should look elsewhere for a job if you don’t like where you work” anti-organized labour sentiment.

“The thing is these are not entry level jobs. We have requirements and requisites, sometimes involving additional education, required to qualify for them. We love our jobs, we just want to earn a fair wage,” Leece said.

“In Vernon, the living wage is considered $18.64 an hour. We are not making anywhere close to that as people are struggling to just get by.”

Leece said Gateway has framed the wage disagreement around the benefit of tips that employees can receive to bolster their wage, but she says tips are split up among staff from a tip pool and generally amount to less than $2 an hour at best in additional wages.

“A tip is a reward for good service. It is not designed to be a supplement for poor wages that our employer can pass off to their customers to pay,” Leece said.

She said government and banks don’t consider tips a dependable source of income, such as on a statement of income for a mortgage application.

“And the reality is many casino workers don’t receive tips at all.”

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