Workers at Woodbine Racetrack reach tentative agreement with OLG

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A tentative agreement has been reached between slot machine workers at Woodbine Raceway in Toronto and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). Members will vote on the agreement this weekend.

Rui Brum, spokesperson for the corporation, said in an email to rabble.ca that it is hopeful the vote will be successful.

Sharon DeSousa, Ontario regional executive vice president for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the union representing slot machine workers, was in meetings on Friday and not available for comment.

Nearly 400 people work at the slot machines at the racetrack. Woodbine's 3,000 gaming machines make it the largest gaming floor in the province.

Workers are concerned about how their pensions could be affected once a private operator takes over slot machines at the site, said DeSousa earlier this week.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) is in the middle of a multi-year modernization plan. The plan involves having private companies take control of day-to-day operations at OLG facilities. The new operator for slots at Woodbine, as well as for the slots at Ajax Downs and the Great Blue Heron Casino, should be announced later this summer, OLG spokesperson Rui Brum told rabble.ca.

Right now, slot machine workers pay into the provincial pension plan because OLG is a Crown corporation, said DeSousa. Workers want to make sure they will be compensated once the new operator for Woodbine's slot machines is named. When that happens, workers will no longer be OLG employees.

"Workers just want to be treated with respect and fairness, and they want to make sure their retirement futures will be protected," said DeSousa. Slot workers at Woodbine are one of the only slot machine workers at OLG facilities who don't have a contract, she said.

Workers will still have pensions once the new operator is named, said Brum. He said OLG is making sure the future service provider has to give workers a pension similar to the ones employees at other facilities received when new operators take control. These employers decide what the pensions will be, said Brum.

Workers are concerned about more than their pensions, said DeSousa. Many have part-time jobs and their irregular schedules can make it difficult for them to find child care or take care of elderly relatives. Many also earn less than $15 an hour. DeSousa said these situations contradict the government's statements that it wants to tackle the problem of precarious work and its proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2019. She said OLG is "countering" the government's vision.

Workers are prepared to fight, she said, even though this has been an "extremely stressful" time for them. "They're not going to lie down. They're ready to fight if they need to fight," DeSousa said.

Slot machine workers were on strike at the OLG-operated Rideau Carleton raceway in Ottawa between December 2015 and May 2016. DeSousa said she doesn't want Woodbine's workers to go through the "same nightmare."

Brum maintained the current offer is fair, saying OLG is offering workers pay increases. Workers, on average, earn more than $19 an hour and many also get tips, he said. He also said workers have extensive health and life insurance.

The OLG made $2.2 billion in net profit and $74.5 billion in revenue in 2015-2016. Money goes towards hospitals, supporting amateur athletes, and First Nations communities, among other initiatives.

Private companies have already taken over operations at slot machines and casinos in southwestern and northern Ontario and in Belleville, Gananoque and Fraserville.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

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