From Zero To Hero

crown_2010_refgroup_350PX.jpgRob* describes his journey from apathy to victory at Crown Casino in Melbourne in 2010, when union members won a landmark deal making them Australia's best-paid casino workers.

It was January this year and I found myself at a union meeting discussing what mattered to Crown Casino workers from various departments for our next Enterprise Agreement.  It wasn’t a meeting I’d planned on attending, but having been dragged along I tried to at least look interested. 

Sure, the problems with our workplace were bad — harassment of people taking sick leave, no respect for our right to a have a life outside work, and few options for career advancement — but what was I ever going to be able to do about it?  A lot of other Crown workers felt just as apathetic and powerless.

Speaking out
But things started to get interesting when we began developing our list of things we want to change at Crown.  At the next meeting, I actually spoke up. I made sure that the issues affecting my workmates were known.

Standing up
Somehow I had managed to wind up on the twenty-strong team of union members negotiating the Enterprise Agreement for all of Crown.  What would have been daunting to me in January had become something that was important and necessary.

Growing stronger
We were a much stronger union than our employer realised. Many new members were joining the union. We also found we had the capacity to argue almost any objection they hurled at us.  By our third bargaining meeting with Crown it was becoming clear they were going stall on making a pay offer.

No respect
We told our fellow union members about these stalling tactics: Crown was showing us no respect.  Over a thousand signed a petition demanding Crown make a pay offer now.  Soon after Crown negotiators broke and offered us 9% over three years. It was a start, but we weren’t going to settle for such a bad offer when the Crown workers are considered the best at our jobs in the country.

Pay up, Crown
So we pushed them again, this time with postcards addressed to the then CEO of Crown Melbourne, David Courtney.  We turned up at his office and tried to deliver 1200 postcards signed by Crown staff.

But he did a runner!  He walked straight past us and snuck into an elevator.  Despite his lack of respect for his staff, it was another victory for union members at Crown. We pushed their pay offer up to 10.25%. It was an improvement, but still far below what we wanted.

As our campaign rolled on we argued tooth and nail for the things that mattered to us.  Then, in the midst of all this we got a copy of Crown’s proposal to change the career structure of workers in the Table Games area. 

crown_casino_fire_show_350px.jpgIt dropped like a bombshell. It called for three different pay rates for dealers with the very same skills. So, one dealer could be working the same shift, and doing the same work, but be paid up to $2.40 per hour less than their workmate.  The changes could have cost experienced dealers thousands of dollars a year, compared to what they would have been paid under the current structure.

So, as we moved forward with our other proposals, we were still stuck on two big issues:  A pay offer well below what we felt we deserved and a change that could seriously disadvantage staff in one of Crown’s biggest departments. It seemed like the standoff would never be broken. We could never agree to their proposal and Crown seemed hell-bent on pushing it through.

We gave Crown one last chance. We put forward the only compromise we could on the Table Games issues, along with a demand for a 13.5% pay increase over three years.  Crown responded by offering us 11% and refused to withdraw their Table Games proposal. 

Time for action
crown_casino_fire_show.jpgThat was the final act of disrespect. It was time to take action.  We filed for an industrial action ballot of all union members. Once this was done we had a brief 10 day window for everyone to vote.

We set about making sure that everyone voted YES for industrial action.  Delegates came into the union office and together with union staff, we made thousands of telephone calls. With so many shift workers at Crown, we had to call some people many times we until got through.

On the day of the ballot count it was clear we’d been successful: Among those who voted, there was 97% support for industrial action!

Union power
By now we were all feeling pretty strong and powerful. We were ready to walk off the job and fight for better conditions in our workplace.

At our next meeting Crown moved again, improving their offer by a whopping 0.25%.  We responded with a 12.75% pay offer, respect for people’s right to be union members, and the Table Games proposal gone.  We also gave Crown a final deadline of 5pm Thursday 14 October, or we would take industrial action the following day.

Finally, there was a breakthrough. On the Thursday morning, Crown came and offered us 12% over three years.  They also agreed to finally withdraw their Table Games proposal.  We also achieved our goal of having people’s right to be union members respected, locked into our enterprise agreement.  Crown also agreed to create a committee that would give staff to have direct input on how their careers were mapped out.

The deal went to the bargaining team to consider. We endorsed it because it was the best deal for casino workers anywhere in the country. It means we will be some of Australia’s best paid hospitality workers.

My journey
It’s been quite a journey. Nine months ago I had no faith or interest in our union. Now I realise how integral our union is at Crown.  At that first meeting I simply watched the people around me talk.

But after twenty negotiation meetings and countless discussions with other members, I know now how important union membership is. I feel proud of what we’ve all achieved by being union members.

Building for the future
Union membership gave us the power to win this fantastic deal at Crown. If we can keep building strength and membership at Crown we’ll have the power to fight for even bigger changes in our workplace in the years to come.

*Name changed to protect worker’s identity. 

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