Michigan Tribal Casinos Continue Paying Workers Through April, Cite Unemployment Fiasco

Posted on: April 10, 2020, 08:59h. 

Last updated on: April 10, 2020, 11:09h.

A Native American group that owns two tribal casinos in northern Michigan, plus a non-gaming resort, will continue paying its workers through at least the end of April despite the properties being temporarily closed to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Michigan tribal casinos coronavirus
Michigan tribal casinos such as Turtle Creek continue to pay workers through the health crisis. (Image: Jan-Michael Stump/Record-Eagle)

The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians City Council voted this week to extend pay until May 1.

The tribe owns and operates two casinos – Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel and Leelanau Sands Casinos & Lodge – plus the non-gaming Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

“We understand that this is a difficult time for everyone. The health, safety, and well-being of our team members has always been our top priority,” said Michael Schrader, CEO Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos. “We want our employees to know that we value their dedication and loyalty, and we hope this action helps to ease their burden during a time of such uncertainty.”

The tribal council said its reasoning behind the decision stemmed from the ongoing frustrations being experienced with the Michigan unemployment system. “As unemployment policies related to the ongoing battle with COVID-19 continue to remain unresolved for many Michiganders, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians has approved the extension of full-wage compensation for all Grand Traverse Resort & Casinos employees,” a statement read.

Employees Rejoice

State unemployment systems are overloaded across the country, as antiquated networks simply cannot keep up with the unexpected volumes of first-time filers. In the past two weeks, more than 400,000 people filed for unemployment in Michigan.

We are processing as many claims in a day as we did in a week during the height of the Great Recession,” said Jason Moon, communications director for the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of frustration with getting into the system, either on the phone or online, and then getting cut off,” explained Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-District 100).

Grand Traverse workers are happy to know they won’t have to try and navigate the unemployment system.

“As one of four people in my household employed by Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, I can’t sufficiently express my gratitude to the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, so I’ll simply say thank you. A million times, thank you,” said employee Caiti Iseler Anthony.

Detroit Workers Not so Lucky

Michigan has 21,504 confirmed coronavirus cases, with the respiratory disease responsible for 1,076 deaths. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has ordered all activities not necessary to sustain or protect life be suspended through April 30.

The state’s three commercial casinos – all located in downtown Detroit – are no longer paying workers who remain at home. MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity, and Greektown have all furloughed their employees without pay, but are continuing to pay their benefits through June 30.

MGM employees might be able to access MGM Resorts’ Employee Emergency Grant Fund, which has more than $11 million in available money to help with short-term financial relief.