Please note: I have published the original newspaper article in its entirety at the very bottom of this post.
Letter to the Editor, Allegan News, submitted for publication;
[Note to the Editor: Attached find your original article dated August 1, 2007. Our Organizing Committee presently has two organizing campaigns going on in Michigan Casinos in Petoskey (Odawa--- formerly Victories Casino) and Escanaba (Island Casino); two in Wisconsin, two in Iowa, and seventeen in Minnesota.] (Also, as a courtesy, I have e-mailed copies of this Letter to the Editor to Hugh Coward, President of the Southwest Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council and Gary Garbarino, Legislative Assistant to Michigan Floor Leader Representative Tobacman (Democrat) and George Dubovich USW Organizing Coordinator and Leo Gerard, International President, USW, and Nadine Nosal of the United Auto Workers union (UAW)]
Your article regarding the hearing held before the Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee concerning the proposed Gun Lake Casino contains very erroneous and unsubstantiated statements; and fails to address other very important concerns and issues which only a renegotiated Compact can resolve.
Supporters of the Compact including Governor Granholm, Michigan Legislators, the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce and the Southwest Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council have not demonstrated one iota of concern for the health and well-being of the 1,800 workers who will be employed at poverty wages in this smoke-filled casino without any rights under Michigan, Federal, or Tribal labor laws.
So much for all the talk about human rights and workers’ rights; aren’t casino workers human beings?
It is no secret; the Gun Lake Band is fronting for the Fertitta Family’s “Station Casinos.”
There are those who want to just continue forward with this Compact completely oblivious to the truth and the injustices it will spawn:
There will be no $40,000.00 a year jobs for casino workers;
Casino workers will work in smoke-filled casinos without any rights under state, federal, or tribal labor laws. Would any member of the Southwest Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council work under these circumstances? Definitely not; in addition to established labor laws they have a union contract. Workers in this Gun Lake Casino will be employed under terms called “at will hiring, at will firing” with no recourse what-so-ever against unjust terminations. No construction worker would pick up a shovel under such terms of employment.
Casino workers will have no voice at work;
Without rights in the workplace, casino workers have no rights in the communities where they live--- say something your employer doesn’t like (for instance: the minimum wage should be increased to a level commensurate with the calculations of the United States Department of Labor for what is a real living income) at a legislative hearing and you are out the door;
Young women casino workers--- who are in the majority among casino workers; these women of child-bearing age suffer the worst health related problems of second-hand smoke; a problem casino managements have refused to address [For those concerned about fetuses second-hand smoke is a great peril];
Heart, lung, and cancer related health problems associated with second-hand smoke afflict casino workers more than workers in any other industry by a ratio of more than eight to one according to leading experts with the Heart and Lung Foundation and American Cancer Society;
Workers will be fired for attempting to organize a union--- this is the Fertitta Family track record concerning “labor-management relations;” there is nothing to lead us to believe this Gun Lake Casino which will be entrusted to their management team will be any different;
The Fertitta Family operates a string of non-union casinos and has used the most violent and dirty union busting methods to keep their casinos union free--- this is a matter of public record.
So far, not one single Michigan Legislator or media outlet has challenged the proponents of this Gun Lake Casino “Compact” to come forward with documentation supporting the outlandish claim that these jobs will be paying $40,000.00 a year. The only thing they would have to request is a listing of each job and what the job will pay on an hourly basis and what that job will pay for the year.
Since the Gun Lake Band, the Kalamazoo Chamber of Commerce, and the Southwest Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council have all stated that wages are a primary reason for considering this casino venture, they should be willing to provide the hard empirical data supporting this claim of $40,000.00 a year jobs for casino workers; they have not.
I challenge anyone to show me one single casino in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Iowa paying its employees--- on average--- $40,000.00 a year. Yes, they ALL made similar claims to get their Compacts approved; but, what has happened after these ventures get up and running tells a completely different story of casino workers averaging between $8,000.00 and $12,000.00 a year. Any school child knows you don’t combat poverty by paying employees poverty wages.
Michigan Legislators have allowed the claim of “forty organizations and unions” supporting this Gun Lake Casino to stand without even asking for a list of those endorsements from those making this claim. I have asked for the list from State Representative Barbara Farrah and Hugh Coward, President of he Southwest Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, to no avail. Initially they claimed the United Steel Workers union as supporters; this turns out to be false.
Why is it so difficult to get hard empirical data out of the supporters of this project? One can only conclude they are not telling the truth about any of this.
Working through the big-business controlled media like the Grand Rapids Press and other print and broadcast media which stands to make millions of dollars in advertising revenues, it is easy to understand why supporters might be so dishonest in projecting a very distorted scenario.
The racism inherent in this “Compact” is overwhelming as Native American working people who have been the victims of racist hiring practices in other industries, including glaring racial discrimination in the construction industry, are again used as the primary and core source of cheap labor--- forced to work under the most Draconian conditions as stated above.
The dirty and under-handed manner in which this “Compact” has been brought forward calls into question the very basic premise and underpinnings of our democracy as questions are prevented from being asked, discussion is stifled and limited at both the grassroots level and the Legislative level to only those who support this “Compact;” all making a complete mockery of democracy.
“Tribal Sovereignty” is no excuse for systematically continuing to deny casino workers their very basic and fundamental human rights.
President Hugh Crawford claims it is too late to renegotiate the terms of this Compact in light of the glaring injustices I have cited; if this is the case, then I feel sad for our country if our democracy can’t manage to correct such a grave injustice.
Consider this: the racist distribution of small-pox laden blankets with genocidal intent pales in comparison to forcing people to work in smoke-filled casinos at poverty wages without any rights; over two-hundred thousand Native Americans and well over one million casino workers are employed in almost four hundred casinos working under such conditions in our country today.
This Gun Lake Compact should be rejected as written and Governor Granholm should be told to renegotiate this Compact taking into consideration the rights of casino workers to work in a healthy work environment with the exact same rights construction and all other workers in the State of Michigan enjoy under state and federal labor laws.
Thank you for allowing me to clarify what is at issue;
Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council
Question from reader:
I may have missed something in the run up here to the Gun Lake casino story,
but reading this recent post was like coming in on the middle of a
conversation at a big noisy party. Is there any coherent story or narrative laying out
and sourcing the things that are put forward here? I thought that every casino
in Michigan (think Nevada) was union, and that no group would dare try to put
in something like that without union wages and labor standards for every worker.
Other questions about casinos are important and need to be asked elsewhere
(especially, the use of the tax revenues from their operations as an indirect
tax on poor and working people, rather than establishing more stable taxes to
support schools and other public services).
Sorry to cut into the conversation in the middle, but it was surprising to
read the pieces that were published above.
George N. Schmidt
My response to this question:
To answer your very excellent question… and if I do not address your questions adequately I hope you will continue to press me for further explanation.
None of the approximately 400 Native American owned/operated casinos strung out across the United States are unionized… (as, an aside, most of the other casinos are not unionized, either--- however, workers in all the “non-Native” casinos are protected under state and federal labor laws like all other workers; a very big difference I am sure you will agree).
None of the 400 or so Native American owned casinos are actually owned by the various Tribes which are issued licenses to operate under terms of special “Compacts” between the states and federal governments… these casinos, are in fact “fronts,” for the big casino owners and distributors of slot machines and other “investors” who take in the majority of the revenue.
In the case of this proposed Gun Lake Tribal Casino, the management firm will be the Station Casinos; this is a huge casino chain controlled and for all practical purposes--- owned--- primarily by the Fertitta Family. The Fertitta Family is headed up by Frank Fertitta, Jr. and his two sons--- Fertitta has been the “front” for the Kansas City Mob… the organized crime group which makes its money from “skimming” casinos (among other things including illegal gambling [like sports betting, horse racing], money laundering, prostitution, stolen merchandise, loan-sharking, and drug dealing). Fertitta “allows” the casinos to be used for all of these illegal operations--- however, the “skimming” operation is the most lucrative.
“Skimming” is where casino funds are stolen somewhere in the process of “normal” book-keeping operations--- money counting machines are rigged, scales that weigh the coins and tokens are “doctored,” false records are kept (instead of writing in the books $10,000.00 taken in--- $1,000.00 taken in is written down, etc.) If you want to kind of “see” how all of this works watch the movie “Casino” which is a “fictitious” account based upon the real life of Frank Fertitta and the real Kansas City Mob… based upon actual testimony from the government prosecutions in court of these mobsters.
Attempts have been made to organize a few of Fertitta’s non-union Station Casinos without success--- it has been one bloody mess of workers and union organizers being beat up, threatened, intimidated, family members beat up and raped, workers black-listed from working in other casinos, and so on and so forth.
You see, the only way these illegal operations can take place is when casino workers are either “forced,” or coerced, to take part in the illegal operations (none of the big shots want to soil their “clean” hands, right?) or face loss of employment as they make room for others who will be more “cooperative” in these schemes; workers without any rights do what management tells them to do or they lose their jobs.
Don’t think I approach this issue from any kind of moral perspective like the preachers and ministers; I don’t. I do not approach this issue with any kind of “moralistic” angst, but rather from the perspective casinos are part of American culture and society (apparently lots of people enjoy gambling--- again, I don’t know why--- I guess some people like to play golf, others gamble; personally I like to fish and play Scrabble); but, as long as these very profitable casinos are going to exist, casino workers have the right to dignity and to have their human rights upheld--- by law like all other workers; paid real living wages, get vacations, benefits like health care and child care and so on.
The “unique” aspect of “Indian gaming,” involves the issue of “tribal sovereignty.” The mobsters found these “sovereign” Indian lands a haven for the casinos and associated illegal activities--- all of which are very profitable… some people dub this: casino capitalism.
What we are trying to do with this specific “Compact,” for the first time in the country, is force the Michigan government to tell the Gun Lake Band, “We are not approving this ‘Compact’ unless the same state and federal labor laws covering all other workers is extended to casino workers through the appropriate language in this ‘Compact’.”
It is the issue of “sovereignty” which makes this such a “special” and “unique” issue. The casino operators invoke “sovereignty” in trying to get out from under facing workers trying to organize unions by saying, “This is ‘sovereign’ Indian land… we do not have to obey any state or federal labor laws or the National Labor Relations Act.” In fact, the “sovereign” Indian Nations have no labor laws of their own; nor do they abide by international labor codes, nor any human rights standards as those clearly articulated in the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There is no other “sovereign” nation in the world where corporations and employers have the unfettered, unrestricted right to exploit workers under such harsh and Draconian conditions. Check it out, there are none.
I will close by pointing this out--- this casino money “clean and dirty” has had an enormous impact on these Indian Reservations and the people who have been forced to live in such deplorable conditions that are in fact part of the continuing and apparently never ending campaign of racism and genocide which is part and parcel of official United States government policy.
We always hear from the promoters of these casinos that their only concern is operating a business in order to eliminate all the dirty influences of this institutionalized campaign of hate, racism and genocide--- how all this money is needed to alleviate poverty, hunger, poor or no health care, illiteracy, dilapidated housing, child, spousal/partner, and substance abuse, pay for keeping Native American traditions, culture, and languages alive--- all very legitimate problems requiring funding to alleviate, eliminate, and promote.
Anyone with the least little bit of inquisitiveness and common sense who has ever walked into any one of these 400 or so casino operations strung out across our country can readily see the obvious method of making money--- the slot machines and table games (never mind the illegal operations) --- has to ask the question: Why is there any problem of poverty at all on any Indian Reservation in this country with this kind of money being made hand over fist?
The obvious answer is that all this money--- with the exception of token amounts to make it appear there is financial gain to be had through the casino industry (in gambling there always has to be your token “winner” in order to lure in the rest of the suckers)--- doesn’t stay in any of these communities. Just like the profits created by other working people flow to the top, to the Wall Street coupon clippers, etc. (I would point out, that many of these casino ventures have been very cleverly integrated into the capitalist mainstream of Wall Street--- Station Casinos are part of Wall Street now, giving organized crime great “legitimacy;” if you can consider exploitation of working people “legitimate.”
Native American workers, who have been, by and large, systematically prevented from getting employment in most industries due to racist hiring practices directly aimed at Native American workers, are now being used as the source and core of a cheap labor pool for the casino industry, which like any industry require workers.
Forget about inquisitiveness, intelligence, and common sense--- any school child understands poverty can not be eliminated as long as poverty wages are being paid to workers and a very rigid, domineering, and Draconian method of management is in place, by intent--- and methodically designed through “Compacts” to prevent and thwart any attempt on the part of casino workers to organize to protect their rights through the collective bargaining process.
To this point whenever we have brought up to the Tribal Councils and state and public officials this problem, they have wrung their hands and said, “We are so sorry, we overlooked this aspect of workers rights in these “Compacts.” This is all water under the bridge, it is a done deal. Nothing we can do now.” Well, now casino workers are saying, “Hey Michigan legislators and Governor Granholm, before you approve this ‘Compact’ what about our rights?”
Presently in the United States over two-hundred thousand Native American working people are stuck in this quagmire created by a maze of federal, state, and tribal governments (by the way, these tribal governments are racist institutions in and of themselves specifically designed to oppress Native Americans by suppressing their right of participation in the political process in a way that prohibits them from taking action to make their lives better) among almost two million workers in all, many young women, many others people of color also victims of racist oppression; and many undocumented workers from all over the world (imagine if you will the pressures on a human being living in a foreign country and having to have your life complicated by the fact that you are not even working side by side with other workers who enjoy basic human rights under state and federal labor laws and what a money-grubbing, greedy management can coerce you to do)--- some two million workers in all are employed in these casino operations here in the United States of America… and not one single state or federal elected official from the Democratic, Republican, or even the Green Party has questioned, let alone objected to any of this! Not one.
Right now in the State of Michigan headed up by what has been widely described as a “pro-labor” (for sure organized labor backed) governor, Jennifer Granholm and a Democratic Party dominated House, not one of these elected politicians has had the plain old common decency to question any of this while this Gun Lake tribal “Compact” has been discussed widely in public and in Committee, and now is probably coming for a vote this Wednesday in the Michigan House.
Not one single Michigan newspaper, television or radio station has brought forward any of these concerns of worker rights even though every single one of these media outlets, from the smallest community newspaper to the largest of the commercial dailies, has covered this “Compact;” from the point of view that what has been negotiated is a bigger take for the State of Michigan from the profits of this casino operation. In fact, this makes the State of Michigan a direct Party to this most disgraceful and shameful method of exploiting casino workers.
By the way, if real “sovereignty” actually existed, why would such “Compacts” even be required? And, why would a state government regulate slot machine compliance; but not be concerned about the living, breathing human beings who are being forced to work in these casinos while the state has negotiated for a “bigger slice of the pie?”
I hope this answers your questions; if not ask away.
I do hope you will make your concerns about this known to Michigan Legislators before Wednesday… our activities have forced the Michigan legislators to repeatedly postpone their vote on this for many months now… the Governor has twisted many arms promising legislators many things in return for supporting this “Compact.” The Fertitta Family machine has greased many palms in Michigan… we are talking about an area just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan just waiting to be tapped into without any other competition from any other casinos.
By the way, the Fertitta Family is backing Hillary Clinton big time with well documented campaign contributions… and, even contributing to Rudy Giuliani’s campaign in order to protect their interests no matter which way the election goes. We are talking big, big, money in these casino operations… casino workers, like all other workers, create the wealth of this industry and get a life of oppression and poverty in return.
Again, if you are still unclear concerning the issue (or if you have any disagreements) please feel free to ask or state your opinions.
Yours in the struggle,
Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council
This was sent to the following:
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House committee passed tribe’s casino Class III compact
By Bill Brown
Editor, Allegan News
Wednesday, August 1, 2007 10:23 AM EDT
LANSING, Michigan—A committee in the Michigan House of Representatives approved the Class III gaming compact with the Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians July 24.
The Michigan House Regulatory Reform Committee passed the resolution to approve the Gun Lake Casino Class III gaming compact with a 6-0 vote following more than an hour of testimony.
The full House could vote on the matter soon.
“Every federally recognized tribe in Michigan besides my Tribe has a signed and duly approved gaming compact. We are not asking for any more, or any less, than what every other tribe has. We simply ask for fair treatment,” said Gun Lake tribal chairman D.K. Sprague.
During the hearing before the committee, testimony was given by those who represented the Kalamazoo Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Southwest Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, West Michigan Building Trades, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Michigan, the Allegan County Sheriff Department, Wayland Township, the City of Wayland, and the Friends of Gun Lake Indians.
Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck, and Mark Jansen, R-Grand Rapids, spoke out against the compact. According to a press release from the Gun Lake tribe, Birkholz sat side-by-side with Jansen and explained that “she opposed the compact, in part, due to her fears that it will provide economic benefits to Allegan County at the expense of downtown Grand Rapids.”
Birkholz represents all of Allegan County, including the Bradley-area location of the proposed tribal casino.
Also, according to the tribe, Jansen spoke about his fears that “the casino will negatively impact people in Allegan County who are ‘already addicted’ to harmful behaviors.” He went on to say that “Allegan County is known as the ‘meth’ capital of Michigan.”
Tribal leaders who reside in Allegan County said they took offense to the senators’ comments.
“I don’t think it’s funny to stereotype our county in that way. We want Allegan County to be known for good employment opportunities and a thriving regional economy,” said John Shagonaby, Gun Lake tribal vice chairman.
According to the tribe, Wayland Township supervisor Roger VanVolkinburg spoke in support of the compact directly following both senators’ testimony. The Township is the host municipality of the proposed Gun Lake Casino.
“We need to get back on track here,” said VanVolkinburg. “This is not a gaming issue. We don’t make those choices, but we do advocate for a way to get needed revenues from this facility, which is why I am here to ask for your support for the compact.”
Mr. VanVolkinburg informed the committee that the tribe currently pays $30,000 in annual property taxes, but after the casino is open it will pay $3 million to local governments under the 2-percent local revenue sharing provision of the compact.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office was represented by her deputy legal counsel on Native American Affairs, John Wernet. According to the tribe, he explained why the Gun Lake Casino compact is a substantial improvement over previous compacts.
He told the committee that the state revenue share of 8 percent to 12 percent in exchange for a limited nine-county exclusivity zone was the most notable improvement.
Larry Orlowski, executive director of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Michigan spoke in favor of the gaming compact. He was joined by Frank Baker, an officer who attended in support of the compact on behalf of Allegan County Sheriff Blaine Koops.
“Our organization investigated tribal casinos in Michigan and found no increase in violent crimes, prostitution or narcotics violations,” Orlowski said. “We did find that 2-percent local revenue sharing payments are adequately funding the needs of local law enforcement in tribal casino areas.”
Rep. Fulton Sheen, R-Plainwell, questioned the viability of the revenue sharing in a statement Monday, July 30.
“Of the 23 Native American-run casinos in the state, only three of them still contribute to the state’s economy, and even those three are suing the state to stop revenue sharing,” Sheen said. “Furthermore, contrary to popular belief, the 2-percent revenue sharing from those three casinos does not go directly to local municipalities—instead, a board composed of three tribe members and three local government members are responsible for its distribution to applicants.”
Sheen disagreed with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, saying casinos will attract crime that will add strain to local law enforcement.
“I will vote no on House Resolution 158, the measure to establish a gaming compact between the Gun Lake Tribe and the State of Michigan and encourage my legislative colleagues to do the same.”
Sheen claimed that less than 10 percent of Allegan County’s townships, cities and villages have expressed support for the Gun Lake Casino.
Sheen said, “Michigan residents are under the misguided impression that a casino will generate significant additional revenue for the state, as well as jobs and tourism.”
According to the tribe, the proposed casino will create 1,800 direct jobs with a total average annual compensation package of $40,000; 3,100 indirect jobs; and more than $20 million per year in direct purchases of goods and services from west Michigan businesses.