McCain links to anti-union casino no surprise to workers

When scores of dealers and their supporters rallied at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Casino last May for their right to representation by United Auto Workers Region 9A, which they had voted for overwhelmingly, passersby were quick to honk in support.

A year earlier, Sen. John McCain enjoyed a gambling weekend at Foxwoods with lobbyists Scott Reed and Rick Davis, in seeming conflict of interest with his role as chair of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Davis is now McCain’s campaign manager.

Casino management ties to McCain, exposed last month in The New York Times, come as no surprise. McCain is an ardent foe of workers’ right to organize.

Foxwoods’ management is refusing to recognize the dealers’ union vote on the grounds that the casino, located on Mashantucket Pequot sovereign territory, should be exempt from National Labor Relations Board rulings.

Because the casino is a corporate entity at which nearly all workers and customers are not tribe members, a court ruled that the casino workers are covered by the NLRB.

Commenting on the ruling last year, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal called that ruling a “historic victory” that “opens a new era for working men and women at tribal casinos in Connecticut and across the country.

“While we respect the principles of tribal sovereignty, this ruling guarantees that basic rights deserve respect, no matter who the employee,” Blumenthal said.

This week, casino management responded by filing an appeal of the NLRB order to negotiate a contract, and announced the layoff of 700 workers.

This billion dollar casino is the world’s largest, and Connecticut’s biggest private employer. The dealers’ union web site is in eight languages, indicating the diversity of the workforce.

Since the union election Foxwoods has been stalling for time, trying to create an atmosphere which causes dealers to quit or be fired. The management has also seen fit to award across-the-board raises to virtually every other occupation in the casino complex while dealers’ salaries have remained stagnant.

Dealers recruited from the original casino to work in the new MGM tower are required to serve a three-month probationary period which allows Foxwoods to fire them at will with no recourse for reinstatement at either casino. The net result of these firings is one less union dealer for Foxwoods to contend with.

Dealers have been required to meet certain physical characteristics in order to be considered for work in the MGM tower. Men are required to remove all facial hair and have a physique that can adorn the cover of GQ Magazine and women must have the proportions of a Barbie Doll.

As irritating as these requirements might seem, the issue that caused the Foxwoods dealers and the UAW to set up informational picket lines last May is the fact that Foxwoods separated Foxwoods and MGM dealers tips (tokes). “One casino, one union, one toke, no smoke” was the most popular chant, also addressing the demand for a smoke-free work environment. The UAW and the dealers feel that this is yet another attempt by Foxwoods to divide and destroy the solidarity of the dealers after their legally awarded election victory.

The May support rally was attended by local, state and national politicians and union officers including Connecticut AFL-CIO President John Olsen; UAW Region 9A Director Bob Madore and state Attorney General Blumenthal, as well as members of other unions and organizations. Of course, the real honored guests were the Foxwoods dealers themselves.

McCain’s ties to the gambling industry raise the stakes of the presidential election for the dealers as their struggle for a union contract continues.