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Toronto resident Maheroon Mawji, 72, listens as Bill Rutsey, CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, speaks Wednesday in the council chambers at city hall. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto resident Maheroon Mawji, 72, listens as Bill Rutsey, CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, speaks Wednesday in the council chambers at city hall. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

LABOUR VS. UNION

Unions support exploring Toronto casino Add to ...

When a pro-casino industry group launched a new website Wednesday, its leaders were joined by two surprising bedfellows: The Canadian Auto Workers union and the Service Employees International Union.

The presence of the CAW raised enough eyebrows around city hall that, before the Canadian Gaming Association could hold its 4 p.m. news conference, the CAW’s director of political action sent an e-mail to mollify 16 generally pro-labour councillors.

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“CAW will be at this press conference calling on a more balance[d] public debate on the issue of whether or not a large gaming resort should be open here in the City of Toronto … please join us in support for public consultations and for a referendum on this issue,” says the e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

Organized labour is in a delicate – but potentially influential – position in the fight over a new casino in Toronto, which heated up again on Wednesday.

The labour movement’s allies on Toronto city council are almost universally opposed to a new casino. But leaders of the major unions jockeying to represent the thousands of workers who would build and staff a waterfront gambling palace are going public with their qualified endorsements of the project.

The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation has said it expects a major resort casino on Toronto’s waterfront would create up to 6,000 construction jobs and as many as 12,000 permanent jobs. Casino opponents dispute those figures.

Leaders of at least three unions – representing carpenters, service workers and hotel employees – signed up to speak at a packed public meeting on the zoning status of casinos in the city Wednesday night.

One of those unions has begun formally lobbying elected officials for a casino, according to Toronto’s lobbyist registry.

Unite Here Local 75, which represents 8,000 hotel and hospitality workers in the Greater Toronto Area, met Sept. 26 with Shelley Carroll and Joe Mihevc – two left-leaning councillors who have not been on the radar of the major Las Vegas casino operators who have been buzzing around city hall for months.

“My sense is that they are dividing up council by political orientation. The gaming industry is going to go to the right side of council, the unions supporting the proposal are going to go to the left side of council,” Mr. Mihevc said.

“It’s a powerful alliance. It might not be enough to win, but it is a powerful alliance.”

Lis Pimentel, the president of Unite Here Local 75, said the union plans to speak to other councillors, but started with Mr. Mihevc and Ms. Carroll because the local has long-standing, positive relationships with both.

“We are in favour of the casino proposal if it meets certain conditions,” including providing good unionized jobs and financial benefits to the city, Ms. Pimentel said in an interview.

Leaders of Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) echoed those sentiments in interviews.

“It’s really about jobs,” said John Cartwright, the president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council, an umbrella group that speaks for 120 different union locals.

The OLG announced earlier this year that it intends to open a new casino somewhere in the GTA.

However, Premier Dalton McGuinty has said his government will not force a casino on an unwilling city. Toronto City Council is expected to vote early next year on whether to welcome a casino, likely at Exhibition Place, the Port Lands or Woodbine Racetrack.

In the meantime, the gaming industry and their allies in some unions are expected to keep twisting arms behind the scenes at city hall.

That is something Councillor Adam Vaughan, an outspoken casino foe, is disappointed to see.

“I think organized labour, like some folks, have bought the corporate pornography that [with a casino] there’s lots and lots of jobs and no economic impact,” he said.

Editor's note: The Toronto and York Region Labour Council has not taken a formal position for or against a new casino in Toronto. Although no affiliates have officially come out against a casino, some have expressed concerns about its social impacts.

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