Union election ordered at Foxwoods casino

By Stephen Singer
Hartford, Connecticut (AP) 11-07

The National Labor Relations Board during late October ordered a union election at Foxwoods Resort Casino, which has been targeted by the United Auto Workers in a drive to organize 3,000 dealers.

The decision could set the stage for one of the first unions at a tribal casino. Foxwoods, one of the largest casinos in the world, has 340,000 square feet of gambling space in a 4.7 million-square foot complex.

Peter Hoffman, regional director of the NLRB’s regional office in Hartford, rejected the argument by Foxwoods owners, the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, that the tribe’s employment law has jurisdiction in the matter.

“In reaching this conclusion, I have fully considered but find no merit to the employer’s claim that its ‘inherent authority’ to regulate employment and labor relations on its tribal lands precludes” the NLRB’s jurisdiction in this matter, Hoffman said.

Hoffman also said he found “particularly unpersuasive” a claim by the Mashantuckets that a strike against the casino would severely disrupt the tribe’s ability to provide essential services to its members.

A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that Indian casinos are bound by the NLRB, and Hoffman cited that ruling in his decision.

The Mashantuckets said in a statement that the NLRB does not have jurisdiction “as the tribe is the governing body which has the inherent authority to regulate employment on its reservation and it has historically done so.”

Spokesman Bruce MacDonald said the issue is not about a worker’s right to organize.

“The issue is one of respecting the tribe as a government,” he said.

Foxwoods has 14 days to file a request with the NLRB in Washington for a review. MacDonald said tribal officials have not yet decided whether to appeal.

Bob Madore, director of UAW Region 9A, said the decision is a victory for Foxwoods employees.

“We were confident we would win this case,” he said. “It’s simple: Regardless of where you work, you have a right to form your own union. That’s the law, and that’s why the NLRB ruled in favor of an election.”

UAW officials during September filed for the election, saying it won a “supermajority” of the 3,000 dealers who signed cards backing a union drive. At least 30 percent of employees of a proposed bargaining unit must sign cards to force a vote, which is supervised by the NLRB.

A date for an election has not been set.

Foxwoods opposed the union’s petition to the NLRB for an election, prompting a hearing and the ruling that was issued.

Madore said UAW Region 9A, which represents university employees, legal aid workers and others in New England, New York City and Puerto Rico, decided to start its union campaign at Foxwoods with the 3,000 dealers. About 11,500 people work at a variety of jobs at Foxwoods, which opened in 1992.

“You walk before you can run,” he said.

Jacqueline Little, a poker dealer at Foxwoods for 15 years, said she was ecstatic at the news of the NLRB decision.

Little, of Coventry, R.I., said health insurance is inadequate and annual pay raises do not keep up with inflation. She even criticized cigarette smoke in the casino, which is exempt from Connecticut’s no-smoking laws.

Foxwoods and the nearby Mohegan Sun have been in the sights of unions for years. In 1999, the president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union declared Indian-operated casinos the new frontier for union organizing.

Both casinos have said unions are unnecessary because workers are paid well and receive good benefits. Tribal sovereignty also precluded unions, the Indian tribes said.

That argument was struck a major blow with the federal court ruling earlier this year.

Little said she believes the NLRB decision will pave the way for an ultimate union victory.

“It’s inevitable. We’re going to have a union at Foxwoods,” she said.

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