A tribal casino in northern California announced Wednesday that it would increase the minimum wage it offers its hourly workers.
The Graton Resort and Casino will give its hourly tipped workers, which includes dealers and bartenders, a minimum $2.50 raise to $17.50. Non-tipped hourly workers will get at least a $3.25 raise to $18.50. Meanwhile, salaried positions will receive at least a 10 percent raise.
The casino is located in Rohnert Park, roughly 45 miles north of San Francisco and 60 miles west of Sacramento. It employs about 2,000 workers.
The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria own the casino. In an interview with Casino.org Wednesday, Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris said that the raises are in line with the tribe’s mission of social justice. It’s also coincidental to discussions in Washington to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he added.
I am so happy to have done it because this is the thing this country needs to do, and that is take care of its people,” Sarris said.
Besides the wage hikes, employees will also qualify for a new quarterly bonus program, too. The casino’s benefits include what Sarris called a 100 percent paid “Cadillac” plan from Kaiser Health.
Graton Wages Near the Top of the Scale
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Graton’s pay raises will put its table game dealers at the top end of the wage spectrum.
The most recent BLS data is from May 2019. There were nearly 100,000 dealers nationwide who earned a mean hourly wage of $11.53 an hour. The top 10 percent of dealers nationwide earned at least $17.49, which translated into yearly earnings of about $36,370.
In California, which has the second most dealers nationwide behind only Nevada, the mean average wage for the more than 16,000 dealers was $13.19 in May 2019.
The Graton employs both union and nonunion workers. Dealers aren’t in a union, but some other employees are represented by labor organization UNITE HERE.
In a statement, D. Taylor, UNITE HERE’s international president, called the raises “life-changing” for workers. The raises will help them rebuild their lives and their families as the community emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Too many employers in the hospitality industry have left their workers behind during COVID-19, and the leadership of Graton Resort & Casino sends a powerful message that our recovery depends on good jobs and a just economy,” Taylor said.
Costly Area to Live
Sarris said the majority of the casino staff, roughly 70 to 80 percent, live in the San Francisco Bay area, one of the most expensive places to live in the US. However, some employees live as far away as Sacramento and San Jose.
“One of the things we talked about with the Tribal Council is that what good is our great benefits if people can’t pay the rent here,” Sarris told Casino.org.
Kathy Winfield, who works as a public areas cleaner, mentioned Sonoma County’s high cost of living in a statement. According to Sperling’s Best Places, the cost of living index in the county is 157.9. That means it’s 57.9 percent higher than the national average.
She added that the raise will help her family take a vacation, her first in years.
“We recently had two tragedies in my family, and this raise will take some of the pressure off financially and allow us to spend quality time together to heal,” she said. “Family is so important, and this raise will give us the chance to start a new chapter.”
Without COVID restrictions, the Graton casino offers about 3,500 slots and machines and about 145 table games. Currently, with capacity restricted to 25 percent because of the pandemic, the number of table games offered is around 115, Sarris said.
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