Casino Rama employees are set to return to work on Thursday for the first time in more than 500 days.
Robert Mitchell, the director of communications and public affairs for Gateway Casinos, which operates Casino Rama and several other casinos, says employees are looking forward to returning to work.
Not all casino employees who have been asked to come back are returning at once, Mitchell says, noting Casino Rama will be reopening in phases - the first phase will include table games and slots. The Simcoe Yard House and Centre Bar will also reopen.
However, the casino's other restaurants, the hotel and entertainment centre will remain closed.
“We’ve got approximately 400 employees returning (to Casino Rama). The recall has been largely successful, and people are happy to be coming back,” he said.
“We had a couple of resignations but that’s not surprising, It’s been a very long time for a business this size to be shut down,” Mitchell said.
“But things are mainly doing really well. Staff are really motivated and pleased to be back.”
Returning staff were back on-site at the casino this past Sunday when they went through training and COVID protocols.
“We are reacquainting people with the facility. We did a significant refresh on the gaming floor, so it looks a lot different than it did before COVID,” Mitchell explained.
“Everyone will be masked and there is a very visible presence of hand sanitization stations and plexiglass. However, we are striving to create an experience that is as enjoyable as possible and reflective of past experiences at the site pre-COVID," Mitchell explained.
Mitchell and Casino Rama employees are counting down the hours until the casino can finally reopen its doors on Thursday morning at 10 a.m.
“We’ve been shut down for 16 months. So, it’s great to finally re-open,” he said.
“We’ve had a strong response from the community since we announced we would be re-opening, and we expect there to be a large number of guests who are coming to the site on Thursday. We are really looking forward to it.”
While Casino Rama employees are excited to return to work, there is some anxiety, according to Unfior Local 1090 President Corey Dalton.
“Every member of Casino Rama has been off work for 16 months. For a lot of people, it feels like going in for the first day of work again,” he said.
“There is a level of anxiousness, a level of the unknown. Casino Rama has undertaken a significant reconfiguration of the gaming floor, so people are going to be walking into a workplace that looks new to them, it’s different," he told OrilliaMatters.
Dalton says employees are concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic as well.
“I think COVID-19 will be in the back of everyone’s mind which plays a certain level of anxiousness about safety. We have toured the casino and employers have done a fantastic job putting in place good and rigid protocols,” he said.
“I think once workers get back into the workplace, they will see the safety precautions in place, and it will put the majority of people’s minds at ease.”
Dalton says some members of Unifor have decided not to return to work at Casino Rama during the pandemic.
“It’s difficult to quantify how many people have moved on, there have definitely been some members who have moved on to other opportunities,” he said.
“But most members who have been given their notice of recall have accepted it and are in the process of returning back, getting their COVID-19 training, and getting re-familiarized with the workplace.”
While some employees won’t be returning to Casino Rama, Dalton doesn’t believe there will be any hiring over the next few months.
“There isn’t a need right now. Casino Rama has about 1,050 members who are represented by Unifor on the seniority list. They have a large labour pool of individuals who they can utilize to access for this recall process,” he explained.
“I’m not hearing any concerns from the casino on getting in contact with employees; they are getting them back in and ready to open.”