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Foxwoods' dealers bet on unionization

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Associated Press / November 26, 2007

HARTFORD - Dealers at the Foxwoods Resort Casino have voted to unionize, a move Connecticut's attorney general says could have a "seismic" impact at Indian casinos across the nation.

The dealers at the tribal casino in southeastern Connecticut voted 1,289 to 852 in favor of joining the United Auto Workers, which represents about 6,000 gambling workers in Detroit, Atlantic City, and Newport, R.I.

"It's a significant step forward for gaming employees who work on tribal lands," said Elizabeth Bunn, secretary-treasurer of the UAW. "I think it will embolden workers at other tribal casinos."

Saturday's vote was held after the National Labor Relations Board rejected a motion by the casino's owners, the Mashantucket Pequots, to delay the process while the board reviews a ruling by regional NLRB officials that the dealers had the right to unionize.

The regional office had rejected the Mashantuckets' argument that tribal employment law has jurisdiction in the matter.

"We are disappointed with the preliminary tally, however, these results will not be official until all legal issues, including jurisdiction, are resolved," said John O'Brien, the casino's president. "We continue to believe as we have from the very beginning that the labor board lacked jurisdiction and that any election should have been governed by tribal laws."

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who had argued in favor of the right to unionize at the casino, predicted the vote will be upheld. Federal courts already have ruled that labor laws apply at tribal casinos, he said.

"This union is the first to be established by a tribal casino by contested vote," Blumenthal said. "It's impact could be seismic in changing the landscape of labor relations at tribal casinos, not only in Connecticut, but across the nation."

Tribal gambling has grown into a $22 billion-a-year industry with casinos in 28 states. About 250,000 people, mostly non-Indians, work at the nation's more than 400 tribal casinos.

If the vote stands, union will represent about 2,600 workers at Foxwoods, one of the largest casinos in the world.

The dealers' annual earnings, on average, range between $45,000 and $50,000, O'Brien said.

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