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With deadline looming, unions ask MGM Springfield for extension of health benefits for furloughed..


July 17, 2020

SPRINGFIELD — Unions representing workers at MGM Springfield are pushing the company to extend benefits for furloughed casino workers until the end of the year.

MGM Resorts International previously committed to provide benefits for all eligible employees enrolled on its health plan through Aug. 31.

MGM Springfield reopened this week after a four-month coronavirus-related shutdown that resulted in virtually all of its employees being placed on furlough.

The casino had 2,004 employees at the end of 2019, including 1,479 full-timers and 525 part-timers, according to a report it filed in February with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. The casino said Monday that about 700 employees have returned to the payroll.

Ethan Snow, chief of staff for the New England Joint Board of the union Unite Here, said discussions are ongoing between MGM Resorts International, Unite Here’s national organization and union locals at MGM sites across the country.

“Part of it is based on how quickly they are able to recall people,” Snow said. “We are hoping that number of recalled employees increases to the point where we don’t even have to think about this. But it is something in the back of our minds.”

Unite Here is the largest union at the property and represent porters, bartenders, cocktail servers, waiters, slot machine attendants and others. It had about 600 members working at MGM before the pandemic. About 200 have been recalled.

Snow said he’s been pleasantly surprised over the past few weeks at the pace employees have been recalled to MGM Springfield. It’s a trend he hopes continues.

“It seems like every day is more and more,” he said. “We are hoping that’s a good sign.”

MGM executives have said they are recalling workers as operations at the casino ramp back up. The entire staff of cleaners was brought back to do the necessary sanitizing work.

The optimism on both sides doesn't mean workers are not concerned.

“People have been rightfully worried. The end of August is fast approaching,” Snow said, referring to the expiration date for furloughed workers’ benefits.

The problem is not unique to MGM, Snow said. Unite Here is in similar talks trying to extend health care benefits from other employers in the hospitality industry.

"It's a problem in this country," he said.

Nationally, an estimated 5.4 million American workers are becoming uninsured because of job losses they experienced from February to May of this year. That’s according to a study released last month by Families USA, a nonpartisan think tank focusing on health care.

In Massachusetts, the number of uninsured adults nearly doubled, rising by 93%. This is one of five states that have experienced increases exceeding 40% in the number of uninsured adults, according to the same study.

MGM didn't comment on Unite Here's efforts.

The MGM Emergency Grant Fund is available to support laid-off and furloughed employees. Grants are being provided to MGM employees with urgent needs, such as rent payments, mortgage payments, groceries or utilities. The MGM Resorts Foundation has raised more than $7 million for its Employee Emergency Grant Fund, including a $1 million donation from MGM Resorts International.

To date, the company has disbursed more than $10 million in emergency grant payments supporting qualified employees and their immediate families impacted by the coronavirus.

Frank A. Rossi, president of Teamsters Local 404 in Springfield, said MGM has been cooperative throughout the shutdown and reopening process.

The Teamsters negotiated and extension of their members’ recall rights so that even recently hired members are recalled if jobs open up within a year. The union also negotiated an end to the waiting period recalled employees would have had to work through before getting health insurance. Now, they’ll get back on the plan immediately after being rehired.

Rossi said the union gave up notification requirements for scheduling changes, giving management more flexibility.

The Teamsters had a total of 70 members working at MGM before the shutdown, mostly in the warehouse and in shipping and receiving, but also at the front desk of the still-closed hotel and in the valet parking department.

"We are hoping they will recall the people by the end of August," he said. "And if not, then those folks will be on unemployment still."

Snow said casino operators in New England stand to benefit from the region’s largely successful efforts to contain the disease. But he warned that MGM Resorts has locations elsewhere — Mississippi, Las Vegas — where coronavirus is not yet on the wane. In those states, the casinos might have to close back down.

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