An African American employee who claims that his race and pro-union leanings cost him his job at the SugarHouse Casino has hand-delivered a petition to get it back.
Cory Ballard, 25, who made $13 an hour plus tips as a player services agent the last nine months, was accompanied by about a dozen SugarHouse employees and Bishop Dwayne Royster of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Kensington as he delivered the petition. It was signed by two-thirds of his old department and given to casino representatives Tuesday at management's office at 1080 N. Delaware Ave., directly across from the casino.
"It just [motivates me to act] that they have ... assassinated my character when I have the support of my fellow workers and the community," said Ballard, who gave the petition to the casino's human resources director, who refused to take it.
Ballard said he had been fired twice in recent months. The first time, he said, was in late November for giving out free slot play coupons to non-new players. He fought to get his job back on the ground that he had not been properly trained on the coupon promotion, and won.
He was fired a second time in early January for the same reason. That time, he said, he gave out five coupons, worth $10 apiece, on New Year's Day.
Ballard, of North Philadelphia, said that while non-African American members of his 50-employee department handed out similar coupons that day, he was the only one terminated. He contends he was singled out because he showed up for work after his first termination and reinstatement wearing a Local 54 button and signing a union-drive petition.
A SugarHouse spokesperson said the casino does not comment on individual personnel matters, but it did defend its employment record since opening as the city's only casino on Sept 23, 2010.
"SugarHouse is No. 1 among Pennsylvania's casinos in recruitment and retention of women and minorities," general manager Wendy Hamilton said. "Even so, we have an aggressive program to continue strengthening our diversity."
Workers at SugarHouse publicly declared a union drive in August, confirmed Unite Here Local 54 representative Jon Scolnik, who was with Ballard and his former work colleagues Tuesday. Local 54 represents hospitality and casino workers in Atlantic City and eastern Pennsylvania.
In October, the state Gaming Control Board amended SugarHouse's license to require quarterly reporting on its efforts to fulfill minority contracting commitments.
The union contends job losses have hit women and minorities hardest at SugarHouse; that women were 177 percent more likely to be fired or laid off or to have quit than men there; and that minorities were 15 percent more likely to be fired or laid off or to have quit than whites.
Scolnik said the statistics were based on the only publicly available reports provided by SugarHouse to the Philadelphia Department of Commerce and the state gaming board over the course of the year, of which there were 10.
SugarHouse said some of the numbers cited by Local 54 were "grossly inaccurate."
"More than half of all promotions at SugarHouse last year were minorities or women," Hamilton said. "Any allegation that specific groups are more likely to transition out of our workforce is completely fabricated."