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After Three Years of Negotiations, Foxwoods Union Triumphs

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Foxwoods Resort Casino's beverage-department employees voted 133-90 on May 16 to affiliate with a Westport, Connecticut-based union, reported the Norwich Bulletin.

Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union began talks with the casino's nearly 400 bartenders, beverage servers, lounge hosts and bar porters in December 2007, shortly following the approved union of Foxwoods' table-games dealers with the United Auto Workers, reported The Day.

While Foxwood’s beverage servers on July 31, 2010 approved the union by 190-145, Foxwoods’ management appealed the vote, which was certified by the National Labor Relations Board's (NLRB) regional office in Hartford, Connecticut. Foxwoods Development Company, the casino's management team, claims the NLRB lacks jurisdiction over tribal enterprises on its reservation and vowed to contend the vote in federal court, reported The Day.

After the May 16 vote count, conducted by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns the Mashantucket, Connecticut-based Foxwoods Resort Casino, the tribe honored the decision. “As a result of this process, it will not be necessary for Foxwoods or the union to take any further action with respect to the disputed election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board," the tribe said in a statement.

While fewer employees participated in the recent election, the ratio of supporters to opponents was roughly the same as in the July election, said Keri Hoehne, Local 371's chief organizer, to The Day. “It sends the message that regardless of whether it's under tribal or federal law, the workers just want to sit down and negotiate a contract," Hoehne said. "They want to address issues they've been wanting to fix for a couple of years now."

Workers have expressed concerns over job protection and frequently changing workplace rules from the start, Hoehne told The Day. "Initially, they signed cards (indicating interest in unionizing) because they were worried about older workers losing their jobs, and those who got sick losing their jobs," Hoehne said. Down the road, employment preference for tribal members over non-Indians also emerged as an issue, she said.

Once the Mashantucket Employment Rights Office certifies the election results on June 1, Foxwoods will initiate contract negotiations. "Foxwoods management has always said that it would respect any decision on unionization that employees make under the Tribal Law processes," Scott Butera, Foxwoods' president and chief executive officer, noted after votes were counted, reported The Day. "We are pleased that the union and the beverage department employees have respected the Tribal system, and we are anxious to move forward in a constructive fashion."