Today's NewsA dispute coming to a head in East Chicago, Indiana shines a spotlight on the affordable health care issue – but not the Obamacare kind.

Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., which purchased Ameristar Casino last year, is attempting to replace the current health care plan with one that charges employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions for family coverage. At present, the riverboat casino’s 200 union employees pay nothing for individual coverage and $30/month for family and dependent coverage.

Food on the table

“When the casinos came to Northwest Indiana, they promised good jobs. Now they’re asking us to literally choose between putting food on the table and our families’ health,” says Natalie Mijares, who has worked at Ameristar for nine years. The 34-year-old bartender is the mother of two children.

This week, frustrated  by Pinnacle’s refusal to settle the health care question in contract negotiations, Ameristar workers began asking customers to gamble elsewhere until the issue is settled.

“Without family-supporting health care, we might as well work at McDonalds,” says Marina Castillo, a 32 year-old beverage server and mother of four. 

Workers like Castillo make around $16,000 in wages a year. If the Ameristar health care plan were implemented, nearly a quarter of her income would go towards the company plan.

Other Indiana casinos

Blue Chip Casino settled with the union in December 2013, agreeing to keep employer-paid union health insurance for individuals and families. In November 2014, Majestic Star workers ratified their contract which allows for workers to maintain their union healthcare coverage as well. Workers cite keeping that healthcare coverage among their top concerns in negotiations for the new contracts.

Ameristar reported revenue of $17.6 million in January 2015.