Foxwoods Resort Casino faces new demand for union

By Stephen Singer
Hartford, Connecticut (AP) June 2010

Bartenders at Foxwoods Resort Casino have asked the National Labor Relations Board to supervise an election in a drive to organize a union.

Brian Petronella, president of Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said the union wants to represent about 360 bartenders, beverage servers and others at the casino in eastern Connecticut.

The union lost an election last year. Petronella blamed rules imposed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which operates Foxwoods. He says workers who did not vote were counted as “no” votes.

The union now wants an election supervised by the NLRB, which does not count votes not cast.

Foxwoods says Mashantucket Pequot labor relations law provides a fair process for employees to select union representation and that tribal law should apply.

“As we have repeatedly noted, it is the long-standing policy of the United States to encourage and support tribal self-governance,” Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council, said in a statement. “We continue to believe that tribal law should apply in these matters. We will continue to vigorously oppose any further attempts to undermine our sovereignty.”

The Mashantucket tribe has been seeking to restructure billions of dollars in debt.

The NLRB, which has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Friday, asserted its jurisdiction over tribal businesses in 2004. The board said tribes are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which bars unfair labor practices and gives workers the rights to organize and bargain with employers.

The United Auto Workers won an election in 2007 to represent nearly 3,000 dealers at Foxwoods. The election was supervised by the NLRB, which rejected the Mashantuckets’ argument that tribal employment law had jurisdiction.

However, Foxwoods and the union agreed to negotiate a contract under the auspices of tribal law.

Petronella said organizing will focus on a range of issues, including benefits, pensions and health insurance. Bartenders are paid about $11 an hour without tips and beverage servers make $6 to $8 an hour, also without tips, he said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union has organized cafeteria workers, school bus drivers, Head Start workers, ice cream plant employees and parking lot attendants.

“We represent all types of workers,” Petronella said. “We know how to negotiate contracts for everyone.”

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