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Pennsylvania Legislators pushing for union in casino

12.19.07

Legislators pushing for union in casino

Thursday, December 13, 2007
By Bill Toland, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In the same week that contractors broke ground on Don Barden’s North Shore casino site, Democratic state representatives from southwestern Pennsylvania’s delegation are reiterating pleas for the Detroit businessman to sign a “neutrality” agreement with a labor group that represents thousands of American casino workers.

The agreement would mean that Mr. Barden would remain agnostic on the issue of whether hospitality workers employed at his Majestic Star Casino should organize.

But Mr. Barden, who deals with unionized employees at a casino in Gary, Ind., isn’t interested in signing such an agreement in the immediate future.

“We’re so squarely focused on building this thing in 16 months, it’s quite premature to be talking about hiring and operations,” said Bob Oltmanns, a spokesman for Mr. Barden and the Majestic Star project. “When the time comes, Mr. Barden will probably have something more to say on it.”

The lawmakers ## Reps. Don Walko, Frank Dermody, Nick Kotik, Tom Petrone, Sean Ramaley and Vince Biancucci ## sent a letter to Mr. Barden in the summer, seeking the neutrality agreement.

They used this week’s ground-breaking ceremony to remind Mr. Barden of their request, and ask him to negotiate an agreement with Unite Here, which represents casino workers at Caesars Entertainment, Harrah’s and MGM-Mirage.

“A lot of attention has been paid to the appearance of the casino and its parking garage,” Mr. Petrone said in a statement. “We think it’s even more important to make sure the people who will work there have their organizing and collective bargaining rights protected.”

The casino industry is lucrative, volatile and, thanks in part to the new markets in Pennsylvania, rapidly expanding, all of which make it an attractive industry for organized labor.

This year, the United Auto Workers set its sights on Atlantic City, persuading dealers at Caesars, Bally’s and Trump Plaza casinos to unionize.

Labor’s biggest win came just a few weeks ago ## on Nov. 24, dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut voted in favor of joining the UAW. Of the resort’s 10,000 employees, a third are dealers.

But the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, said it would appeal the vote to the National Labor Relations Board.

Earlier, the tribe had claimed federal labor laws shouldn’t apply on sovereign American Indian reservations.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07347/841279-336.stm

First published on December 13, 2007 at 12:00 am
Bill Toland can be reached at btoland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2625.
Read the PG’s Casino Journal by Bill Toland

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