New York casino employees will head to Albany this week with a message for Gov. Andrew Cuomo: We need to work.
A rally is planned for 11 a.m. Thursday outside of the state Capitol. It is being organized by three casino employees — Greg Mallette, cage operations manager and assistant hotel manager for Vernon Downs; Valerie McIntyre, table games supervisor at del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County; and Robin Torr, hotel front desk manager at Tioga Downs Casino Resort.
The trio, along with approximately 5,200 casino employees in New York, has been out of work since Cuomo directed casinos to close in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Monday, there is no timetable for when casinos will reopen.
Cuomo said in late July that casinos remain closed because of "density, the likelihood of compliance and the essential nature of the business." He added later that "you don't need a casino to maintain survival."
Mallette, McIntyre and Torr disagree. They organized a Facebook group that has grown to 862 members. An online petition urging Cuomo to reopen the casinos has been signed by more than 2,400 people.
During an interview Monday, McIntyre told The Citizen that the rally will abide by health guidelines — face coverings will be required and social distancing encouraged. Hand sanitizer will be available for attendees.
The message they want to deliver, McIntyre said, is that they are essential workers.
"We need to work," she said. "We don't want to keep collecting your unemployment. Let us earn what we deserve. We are ready to go back to work."
Mallette added that they want Cuomo to give casino workers a chance to show they can reopen safely amid the pandemic.
There may have been a positive development for casino workers when Cuomo announced Friday that bowling alleys could reopen and that guidance would be issued for gyms to reopen in New York. But there wasn't any new announcements about the status of casinos and whether they could reopen soon.
What Mallette and other casino workers want is a timeline from the state for when casinos could reopen.
"When you are putting us in a position where we just have no guidance, we have no idea whatsoever," he said. "We don't know if it's going to be next week, if it's going to be two weeks or if we are going to get to Oct. 1 and we're all going to be laid off. That's the worst part of it."
For now, the group of casino workers is preparing for the rally. They are making signs and created a chant, "What do we want? Casinos reopened. When do we want it? Now. What time is it? Our time."
If the Albany rally doesn't lead to an immediate response from Cuomo or new information about when casinos can reopen, the workers plan to hold rallies at del Lago and other casinos across the state.
Politics reporter Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.