Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

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Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Indian casino unionizes in Connecticut despite tribal claims of sovereignty

I would note that the UAW has yet to negotiate a contract at Foxwoods... getting majority support for the union does little good without a contract... over five years ago, 86% of the employees of Red Lake Gamimg Enterprises' three Seven Clans Casinos, a motel, a hotel, a water park and Lakeview Restaurant signed cards authorizing our Organizing Committee to represent them in negotiations with Red Lake Gaming Enterprises and the Red Lake Nation Tribal Council. Since that time almost every worker who signed a card has been fired, and Red Lake Gaming Enterprises has hired USIS, the largest union busting outfit in the world, to harass and hound union members.

The headline to this story is very misleading; the article itself is somewhat accurate but again, fails to fully explain why this Indian Gaming Industry exists in the first place. These casinos are a direct result of how corrupt the political process in this country has become... no politician, except a completely and totally corrupt politician would ever vote for any one of the "Compacts" which give birth to these casinos without any concern for the welfare of over two-million working people.

I would note that newspapers and tv and radio have refused to cover this issue; why? Just look at the millions of dollars spent on promoting these casinos in newspapers on the radio and television.

The Indian Gaming Industry has created the same politics of corruption in tribal governments as with state and federal governments and government agencies... remember Gale Norton and her buddy Jack Abramoff... well tribal governments are impacted the same way as the New York Times pointed out the Red Lake Nation Chair is up to his eyeballs in drug-dealing, graft and corruption.

Apparently the UAW makes nice contributions to In These Times.

Labor Hits Jackpot

Indian casino unionizes in Connecticut despite tribal claims of sovereignty

By Melinda Tuhus

Gamblers play slot machines at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Mashantucket, Conn.

Foxwoods Resort Casino rises from the hills of rural southeastern Connecticut like a gambler’s Oz.

It is one of the country’s biggest Indian casinos and it is the largest employer in the state, with 10,000 workers. Of those employees, about 2,600 are dealers of games such as poker and blackjack. And on Nov. 24, 2007, many of these dealers placed a bet on a better life with the United Auto Workers (UAW).

That’s when 83 percent of workers eligible for the bargaining unit voted by a 60-40 percent margin to join the union.

It’s the first election at an Indian casino to be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which made a groundbreaking ruling last year that allowed Indian casinos to be unionized. But casino management has appealed the vote, claiming it violates tribal sovereignty.

Mary Johnson, a union organizing committee member, began working at Foxwoods 14 years ago, not long after the Mashantucket Pequot tribe opened the casino in 1992.

She says that as a blackjack dealer, conditions were pretty good until spring 2007, when a 5 percent across-the-board raise turned out to be a mere pennies-per-hour increase for some workers. Johnson says starting dealers make a base pay of about $4.50 an hour, and $18 to $20 an hour counting tips.

In early 2007, management raised medical insurance deductibles, reduced its prescription drug plan and disbanded the Employee Group Council created to promote communications and as an outlet for workers’ grievances, Johnson says. As a result, workers at Foxwoods asked the UAW to represent them.

The union has a history of successfully organizing workers at other casinos—an industry that rakes in more than $58 billion annually (almost $26 billion of that from Indian casinos, according to the National Indian Gaming Association).

Anna Wermuth, an attorney who represents employers in labor cases, is critical of the 2007 case involving a union victory at the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in Highland, Calif., that set the precedent for the NLRB decision in the Foxwoods case.

“What happened with the San Manuel case is that the [National Labor Relations] Board … [retreated] from its prior decision that Indian-owned-and-operated enterprises that operated within the confines of a reservation were not subject to the NLRA [National Labor Relations Act],” she says.

The San Manuel case also included for the first time a look at the clientele and the workforce at the Indian casino. Both were found to be primarily non-Indian, thus weakening the sovereignty claim, in the NLRB’s view. (In the Foxwoods case, only about 30 of the casino’s 10,000 employees are tribal members.)

Lance Compa, a senior lecturer at Cornell University’s School of Labor and Industrial Relations, strongly supports the NLRB ruling, saying the agency ought to have jurisdiction in the Foxwoods case.

“We just don’t want a situation here where we have enclaves [that can’t be unionized],” Compa says. “And these are not little enclaves—this is a huge booming industry, the gaming industry. And we can’t have enclaves throughout the United States where workers’ fundamental rights of association aren’t respected and enforced.”

Bruce MacDonald, spokesman for the Mashantucket Pequots, is refreshingly candid when he says management “blew it” in its communication to workers about the way raises were apportioned last year. He also notes that management disbanded the Employee Group Council because workers said it was ineffective and replaced it with small group meetings with managers.

MacDonald says the seven-person elected tribal council is appealing the workers’ vote for the UAW to the regional office of the NLRB.

“The tribe has maintained that it does not object to organizing on the reservation,” he says, “but it wants the organizing to take place under the jurisdiction of tribal law, not the National Labor Relations Board.”

He explains the main difference with NLRB procedures is that tribal law is more like the laws that govern state employees—workers have no right to strike, management cannot impose lockouts and disputes require binding arbitration.

The tribe is appealing on jurisdictional grounds—claiming the vote to join the UAW violated its sovereignty rights—and also on procedural grounds—charging the union with intimidation and with printing ballots only in English. (But organizing committee member Johnson says management requires the dealers to speak English, and Foxwoods’ job application and employee manual are only in English.)

On Dec. 21, the regional NLRB office in Hartford, Conn., issued a ruling on the tribe’s objections, dismissing the challenge to its jurisdiction in the election, but forwarding 10 objections relating to intimidation of anti-union workers and the lack of accommodation for non-English speaking workers for a hearing that, as In These Times went to press, was scheduled for Jan. 15. At that time, both parties will present testimony.

If the tribe loses there, it can refuse to bargain with the newly certified union and seek redress in the federal courts.

Johnson, however, is optimistic. She says organizing committee members are convincing more dealers to sign union cards.

“We’re moving forward,” she says. “It’s pretty exciting.”

The following is my response to this article:

Our rank and file initiated Organizing Committee, the Red Lake Casino, Hotel and Restaurant Employees' Union Organizing Committee made the first attempts to organize workers in the Indian Gaming Industry... we could not get any support from any union.

Over 80% of the workers employed by Red Lake Gaming Enterprises signed cards and the NLRB refused to do anything as did politicians here in Minnesota.

The UAW has bungled several attempts to organize casinos in the Indian Gaming Industry and they are on their way to bungling this one.

We, the Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council, at present have ongoing union organizing campaigns at all casinos in Minnesota, two casinos in Wisconsin, two in Iowa and two in Michigan at the Island Casino near Escanaba and the Odawa Casino in Petoskey.

The UAW has repeatedly refused to join us in opposing the "Compacts" which create these tribal casino operations.

In fact, I have had to, literally, throw UAW leaders sitting at slot machines at the Odawa Casino out, lest I take their picture putting money into the "one arm bandits."

To complicate matters, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger has refused to join us in opposing the "Compact" --- first approved by Democratic, UAW backed Governor, Jennifer Granholm, then approved by the Michigan House, which is now before the Michigan Senate.

This "Compact" for the Gun Lake Casino will allow the notoriously corrupt and anti-labor Fertitta Family to manage this Gun Lake Casino through its Station Casinos.

Why would the UAW not join with us in opposition to allowing one more casino to open under the terms of this "Compact" which intentionally excludes any rights for casino workers?

Right now, the Indian Gaming Industry, which is nothing more than a front for a bunch of mobsters, operates over 400 casinos under the Draconian terms of these "Compacts."

Over two-million American workers, and an untold number of undocumented workers, are employed in these loud, noisy, smoke-filled casinos without any rights under state, federal or tribal labor laws all at poverty wages--- with or without tips.

Even the minimum wage laws and hours laws are not enforced, nor is the Family Leave Act.

Casino workers are routinely denied breaks and often forced to work double shifts without even a lunch break.

Why are politicians approving these "Compacts" creating these casinos fully aware that they are insuring the continuation of the most vile deprivation of even the most basic of human rights-- never mind being denied a voice at work.

Casino workers are victims of all kinds of insurance fraud, scams and schemes like AFLACK, promoted by Wayne Newton and his quacking white duck.

The question which needs to be asked is why Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is being allowed to pull over another fast, shady shuffle on Michigan workers, many of whom will end up working in these casinos when they lose their jobs negotiated away by Ron Gettelfinger and the UAW in the auto industry?

Here in Minnesota, State Legislators passed a law prohibiting smoking in the work-place--- that law is not being enforced at casinos.

The casino industry in Minnesota now employees some 30,000 workers in these smoke-filled casinos.

Doesn't the American Cancer Society and the Heart and Lung Association see anything wrong with sending so many people to work in these smoke-filled casinos?

Many casino workers are young women of child-bearing age who these health organizations have identified as being at greatest risk.

The racism and anti-labor agenda of politicians, many of whom are backed big-time by "organized labor," is sickening.

That these casinos would find so many patrons, including many union members, to continue sticking their pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters into the one-armed bandits is a national disgrace. Which makes me wonder why the International Confederation of Trade Unions has never looked into this shameful situation as part of their campaigns for justice and dignity at work.

I don't think there has been a greater disgrace in this country since the days of slavery and the day the United States government murdered 38 Native Americans on the gallows in the mass hanging in Mankato, Minnesota, their crime: standing up for their rights against capitalist exploitation and the stealing of their lands... the situation in the Indian Gaming Industry is a continuation of the campaign of genocide... if there is anyone who doesn't believe this, try working day-in and
day-out in one of these smoke-filled casinos and then come home at the end of the week and not even be able to afford to buy groceries to feed your children.

Alan L. Maki
Director of Organizing,
Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council

Elected Member, State Central Committee,
Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party