Petition filed to form union at Foxwoods Resort Casino

By John Christoffersen
New Haven, Connecticut (AP) 9-07

The United Auto Workers filed a petition September 21st with the National Labor Relations Board seeking an election to form a union for about 3,000 dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Union officials called the move the largest organizing effort in Connecticut in decades. It also would be one of the first unions at a tribal casino.

“This step is epochal, portending huge shifts in the legal and labor landscape at tribal casinos all around the country,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office has supported such efforts. “It would almost inevitably lead to similar union efforts at other casinos.”

The move came after UAW officials said a “supermajority” of the 3,000 dealers had signed cards in support of the effort. At least 30 percent of employees of a proposed bargaining unit must sign cards to force a vote, which is supervised by the NLRB.

UAW officials said in June they had started gathering signatures in a bid to unionize workers at Foxwoods. The casino in Mashantucket is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and has 11,430 employees.

“We have waited for this day for a long time,” Steve Peloso, a 15-year poker dealer, said in a statement issued by UAW. “There have been too many abuses by management – co-workers have gotten sick on the job and are then forced out, health benefits get worse every year. We’re fed up, and we’re doing something about it.”

Peloso said starting pay for dealers is about $4.50 per hour, with most of the income coming from tips.

Foxwoods officials have been fighting the unionizing efforts, telling employees they will be required to pay dues and may lose benefits through negotiations. In February, the casino announced 5 percent raises and improved benefits after a New Year’s Eve sickout to protest working conditions.

Dealers who support the union drive say they did not receive the promised pay increase.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation said in a statement that officials had received the petition and were reviewing it.

“Our position remains that a union is not in the best interests of our employees,” the statement said. “The tribe has always promoted and maintained a pro-employee environment because it is the right thing to do. Employees at Foxwoods currently enjoy many employee and labor protections resulting from tribal laws passed over the last 15 years.”

The statement also said the tribe is a sovereign nation and that officials do not believe federal labor laws apply to it.

A federal appeals court ruled earlier this year that Indian casinos are bound by the NLRB, which sets rules for unionization.

Tribal gambling has grown into a $22 billion-a-year industry – richer than Las Vegas – with Indian casinos in 28 states. There are about 250,000 workers, most of them non-Indians, at the nation’s 400-plus tribal casinos.

A few tribal casinos in California are unionized, but most workers at Indian casinos are nonunion. Unions have been trying hard to make inroads with the growing work force but say they’ve had trouble without the protection of the National Labor Relations Act