Live! Casino Project In Philly Hit With Union Walkout Over Virus Safety Concerns

Written By Kevin Shelly on April 8, 2020
Construction at Philly Live Casino in breach of CDC guidelines

Construction at the massive Live! Hotel & Casino in South Philadelphia, which continued during the shutdown based on a waiver, is now facing a closedown. It is not clear the continued project fits the terms of the exemption, according to several news organizations.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“An exemption was granted to Gilbane Construction, but that exemption does not allow for casino construction,” said Casey Smith, the spokesperson for the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Casino construction doesn’t qualify for exemption

While all “nonessential” businesses were ordered closed, the Wolf administration allowed for some exceptions on a per case basis. Maryland-based Cordish Companies, owner of the projected Live! Casino, said in a statement:

“Gov. Wolf’s administration recognized there were many businesses in the state that should be allowed to continue operations with the proper planning and safety protocols in place. The state implemented a system for all businesses in the state to petition the Department of Community and Economic Development for waivers from the governor’s shut-down order. DCED has received over 32,000 requests and issued over 5,600 waivers to date.”

Rhode Island Gilbane Building Co. is the contractor at work on the $700 million casino. The project, originally known as Stadium Casino, includes a casino, hotel, parking garage and a related sports arena, and is going up near the stadiums in South Philadelphia.

Apparently, while some of Gilbane’s projects qualified, others like the casino did not. According to Smith:

“Per guidance, when a company receives an exemption in response to a request in which it specifically identified a particular element of the business as essential to health care or another life-sustaining operation, that exemption only relates to those specified life-sustaining activities.”

That means the ongoing construction will need to cease when it is safe to do so.

“However, all work on the project should be halted once the infrastructure stabilization work is done,” Smith added in comments to an NPR news outlet.

A labor union walked off Live! Casino site, citing ‘danger’

Additionally, a major labor union has pulled its workers from the casino project, and several other Philly job sites, according to NPR’s WHYY radio station. The other sites include the Philadelphia Art Museum and the police headquarters.

The NPR station added in an online posting:

“While some job sites have reopened in Pennsylvania via the waiver process, it is unfortunate that the general contractors on a few of these projects were not complying with the CDC regulations,” wrote Sheet Metal Workers President Gary Masino.

“Because of this, we felt that the workers on those projects were in danger, and it was decided to pull our local 19 members off of those sites.”

Masino told the Inquirer he thought Gilbane had placed his union members in “danger” by not following the CDC guidance.

Workers have tested positive at Live! Casino

At least two workers at the job site have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Inquirer. But rather than shutting down, workers were generally advised to self-isolate, according to the news outlets.

Many workers have left the site over past incidents, too. There was even one 15-day shutdown, according to WHYY.

But Cordish maintains that their construction contractor has followed necessary safety and CDC protocols. According to a statement sent to PlayPennsylvania:

“Gilbane, the developer, the Building Trades Council and General Contractors Association worked collectively to develop and approve work protocols that enhanced CDC guidelines. These guidelines have been meticulously followed on the casino project. All involved in the project have the same goals – to build a world-class facility while making the safety of its work force paramount.”

Cordish has said it intends to continue construction for now

According to the Inquirer, Cordish said on Monday they intended to keep building.

“In the case of the casino project, the building is still exposed to the elements and requires critical enclosure and infrastructure work to be completed before construction work can be safely paused.”

The company added:

“The safety of all workers on the casino job and all construction jobs in the region is paramount.”

But Gilbane and Cordish have not commented on the subsequent statement of the Department of Community and Economic Development spokesman who said they are not following the exemption’s guidelines.

Cordish executives previously said they aimed to open the casino before the end of the year. How the current situation and impending construction delay will affect that expectation remains to be seen.

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Kevin Shelly

Kevin C. Shelly is an award-winning career journalist who has spent most of his career in South Jersey. He's the former assistant city editor of The Press of Atlantic City, where he covered the casino industry and Atlantic City government as a reporter. He was also an investigative, narrative enterprise, and features reporter for Gannett’s Courier-Post.

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