Employees of Caesars Windsor rallied outside a member of Parliament's office on Thursday, calling for more government support for laid-off workers.
Caesars Windsor announced earlier this week it would temporarily close its doors due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions. That closure went into effect on Wednesday, and the casino said it would last until Jan. 26.
Unifor Local 444, which represents workers at the casino, said about 1,000 of Caesars Windsor's 1,700 employees have been laid off since March 2020, and don't qualify for either Employment Insurance (EI), or CERB benefits.
"It's all about insurable hours," Caesars Windsor union chairperson Dana Dunphy said at the rally, which was held outside the office of Windsor-Tecumseh MP Irek Kusmierczyk. "If you haven't been able to secure employment, then you can't get insurable hours in order to qualify."
"The new lockdown benefit only benefits people that have been affected by the new restrictions since December 19," Dunphy said. "So we have a ton of workers at Caesars Windsor that can't find employment because people won't hire them, because they know that when they get the opportunity to go back to the casino, they're going to go. So those workers don't fall under either benefit."
One of the Caesars Windsor employees who's been laid off is Darla Aston.
Aston and her husband are both cooks at the casino for more than 20 years, but neither has worked there for two years.
"We did get the call back when they were doing the bumping, but both of us turned it down because the cooks were only getting one shift [per week]," Aston told CBC News on Thursday.
Both Aston and her husband have sent out more than 50 resumes over the past two years, but have not found other jobs yet.
And the process has taken its toll on Aston's mental health.
"This was very big trigger, because your self-worth goes down the tubes when no-one is calling you for employment," Aston said.
Aston said she and her husband did receive EI for a time, and then CERB. Both have since ended, and Aston said everyone who didn't take the one-shift-a-week part-time job aren't eligible.
And while her husband recently picked up four shifts a month cooking at a long-term care facility, he's not able to qualify, either.
Meanwhile, they've used up their savings, and have gotten by with visits to food banks, and asking family or friends for help.
"There is no other resources other than welfare at this point," she said.
Aston said he's hearing similar stories from other Caesars Windsor employees.
"I have single friends who are live alone, no spouse and who are getting nothing at this point, and people are talking suicide," she said. "You have to be there for one another."
"People have went out and got other jobs, but when you're in as a dishwasher or a cook, those industries keep on getting shut down and it makes it very difficult," Aston said. "A lot of my coworkers and I are in the same boat."
Dunphy said the laid-off workers have been struggling mentally and financially.
"It's crushing people," she said. "People want to go to work. People want to provide for their families. People want to participate in paying their taxes and supporting social programs."
"But nobody can do that if they're not working," Dunphy said. "We can't even support our local in our our local communities, our restaurants."
Dunphy said the rally was a way to call on the government to credit laid-off workers with insurable hours so they qualify for benefits. Another option, she said, was to change the lockdown benefit criteria, so more people qualify.
Aston agreed, adding that she wants to see Caesars Windsor open its doors again, as as well.
"I just know that I'd like to be there," she said. "We're a family. We've been working there for a very long time, the majority of us. We need to stick together."
Rally 'appreciated': MP
"We need voices to be heard," Aston said. "I just wish and pray that all this COVID stuff goes away soon and things open, because we do take the measures at the casino."
Kusmierczyk said he "appreciated" the Caesars Windsor employees "letting us know that they're hurting and that they need support, especially through this COVID pandemic and this latest lockdown."
"We know there are so many workers and families in this community that are hurting badly," he said. "And a lot of them just want to get back to work as well, too."
"We heard their voices today and I will make sure to bring those voices to Ottawa."