Casino Rama Employees Angry Over Cancelled Shuttle

Written By Jose Colorado on June 20, 2022
Bus stop sign in blue and white. Gateway casinos cancels Casino Rama Shuttle.

Sorry, not sorry.

That’s the message from Gateway Casinos after pulling the plug on a shuttle for Casino Rama workers near Orillia, Ontario.

The decision has workers worried about their ability to commute to Casino Rama in Rama First Nation.

But Rob Mitchell, director of communications and public affairs for Gateway, seems unmoved. Mitchell told OrillaMatters:

“Since reopening (after the pandemic), the ridership has drastically declined, making the program no longer viable and cost-efficient.

“Less than 60 people were using the service, (and) therefore, the business decision was made to eliminate the program.”

No casino shuttle will hurt workers, economy

One avid user of the Gateway shuttle service was Jack Winer.

He’s put his frustration on paper by penning a letter to Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke. In it, Winer contends closer to 100 people will have their jobs impacted by the shuttle’s sudden shutdown.

On a larger scale, Winer says the removal of the service impacts much more than just Casino Rama employees, noting the local economy and voting members of Clarke’s constituents.

So, here’s Winer’s compromise.

The employee argues a $30 one-way cab ride — as it currently stands without public transit — is too expensive to get to work. But a $20 round-trip service could be a viable option for both employees and residents.

There is somewhat of a precedent for the proposal. When Casino Rama first opened, it offered a free shuttle for workers and patrons.

Winer says a free service is unnecessary; people will pay $20. Winer said in his letter to Mayor Clarke:

“I am quite sure your constituents would love the opportunity to get out there and have some fun, which also generates monies for both municipal and provincial governing bodies.”

Gateway Casinos: Nominal fee a non-starter

According to Gateway Casinos – which operates Casino Rama — discussions considered a more affordable fee. But the idea failed as it simply “was not enough to cover the cost based on the low ridership.”

The operator has also tossed around the idea of a ride-sharing program. An added benefit to that option would be all Casino Rama employees get free parking.

Mayor Clarke empathic but deflects responsibility

For his part, Mayor Clarke seemed empathetic to all sides of the situation.

He called it an “unfortunate” decision to discontinue the service while adding Orillia taxpayers provide $1.5 million in annual funding to the city’s transit services.

But he stopped short of enacting any real change. His suggestion: reach out to the County of Simcoe as they provide transit services with its LINX system within the county.

But the County of Simcoe confirmed that an Orillia-Rama service was not in its plans currently.

Union: Employer had no contractual obligation

Unifor Local 1090 represents many of the employees at Casino Rama. According to the union, roughly 34 workers will have to arrange for alternative transportation.

Unfortunate – yes. Inconvenient – definitely. But it is not a breach of contract.

“The employer had no contractual obligation to our members on this, and the collective agreement did not contain any provisions surrounding the shuttle service provided,” said Steve Batchelor, national representative for Unifor Local 1090.

Casino workers, casino reach deal

Despite the spat, worker-employer relations at Casino Rama have mainly been positive of late.

In April 2022, the casino struck a three-year collective agreement with its unionized employees after only five days of negotiations.

Compare that to recent union-employer dramas unfolding at multiple establishments throughout the country, and that time frame seems like a breeze.

According to Greg Weaver, Unifor’s Casino Rama chair, the main points of the deal included:

  • A general wage increase of 9.5% over three years
  • Skilled trades wage increase of 15% over three years
  • Significantly shortened wage progression scale
  • Benefits improvements
  • Reduced premiums for part-time staff by 50%
  • Increase vision and paramedical coverage for all
  • Improved bereavement benefits
  • Increased banquet event order gratuities
  • Significant enhancements to layoff and recall provisions
  • Union chairperson knew shuttle would be an issue

One may notice a mandatory shuttle service is noticeably absent from that list.

It’s a concession Weaver knew would upset a small group of employees at the time. But ultimately, he viewed it as necessary to get the deal done.

“That’s a problem for probably 30 or so employees that use the bus daily,” Weaver told BarrieToday.

“They are all going to have to find other methods of transportation. Some may be forced to resign because of it, which is a problem for us.”

Casino Rama opened in 1996. The Chippewas of Rama First Nation and Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation jointly own the property. Gateway Casinos handles Casino Rama’s day-to-day operations.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Jose Colorado is a British Columbia-based writer. He lives in Burnaby and loves sports, anime, writing, business and the occasional walk on the beach.

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