Foxwoods seeks to nullify union vote

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By Mark Peters -- The Hartford Courant, Conn.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. (MCT) - Lawyers for Foxwoods Resort Casino said Jan. 15 that a November vote by table game dealers to form a union should be invalidated because a lack of Chinese-language ballots and unlawful tactics by organizers resulted in an unfair election.

Foxwoods made those arguments on the opening day of hearings in Hartford as it fights to block the United Auto Workers from representing 2,600 dealers.

The legal battle over the first union to represent casino workers at Foxwoods hasn;t prevented further interest in organizing one of Connecticut's largest employers. Organizers for the United Food & Commercial Workers Union have begun collecting signatures from bartenders, cocktail servers and restaurant workers at Foxwoods in an effort to force a second federally supervised union vote at the casino, Brian Petronella, president of Local 371 in Westport, said Jan. 15.

The food workers union is trying to organize 750 to 1,200 casino employees. Petronella said the ongoing fight over the UAW vote is common in organizing drives and isn't dissuading the food workers union. The union plans to collect signatures from a ''supermajority'' of potential members and will petition the National Labor Relations Board for a vote sometime in the next few months.

''This is a long process. I suspect [Foxwoods] will use every appeal they can,'' Petronella said.

A third union, the International Union of Operating Engineers, started a signature drive last August to unionize an estimated 250 plumbers, electricians and carpenters at the casino.

Foxwoods presented its arguments before administrative law Judge Raymond P. Green, saying the NLRB made mistakes in conducting the vote and that interactions by union officials and some voters were unlawful.

Foxwoods' attorneys said the errors include printing the ballot only in English and providing notices explaining the election in only one form of the Chinese language, disenfranchising some Asian-American dealers.

But attorneys for the UAW and labor board said the union and the board provided ample explanation of the election in a variety of languages. As for the ballot, they said, the casino didn't make a strong case that its dealers, who must conduct complicated casino games in English, couldn't understand the ballot.

Foxwoods also alleged that the UAW threatened and intimidated some dealers.

''One such threat was made in the presence of a voter's 12-year-old son. Others took place in front of casino patrons,'' said Richard Hankins, an attorney for Foxwoods.

The union scoffed at the allegations and accused Foxwoods of stalling.

Green is expected to make a ruling in coming weeks. Foxwoods, which is owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, is expected to continue its challenge if it does not prevail. Although the tribe did not make it part of the hearing, the tribe continues to contend that the NLRB doesn't have jurisdiction over the casino, which is on sovereign tribal land. The tribe could take that argument to federal court.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Hartford Courant, Conn. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.