Mohegan, trade unions sign no-strike agreement

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. - The Mohegan Tribe and a council of trade unions have signed a project labor agreement for the tribe;s $925 million expansion project, guaranteeing only union labor will be used in exchange for a promise of no strikes.

A signing ceremony took place April 1 at the Mohegan Sun Hotel with representatives of the Mohegan Tribe, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, the New London-Norwich Building and Construction Trades Council, and Skanska and The Keating Group. The latter two firms are involved in Project Horizon, the tribe's expansion development.

''We've always used union workers to build our facility since phase one started here. It was an unwritten agreement. They were here providing a large labor force. We're on phase three now. Now we've finalized it on paper that we would use their labor force to complete our Project Horizon. We felt it was time to do a formal agreement so we can ensure we do get the project done on time,'' said Mohegan Chairman Bruce ''Two Dogs'' Bozsum.

Ed Riley, president of the New Long-Norwich Building and Construction Trades Council and business manager of the Ironworkers Union, said the PLA is mutually beneficial.

''The project labor agreement guarantees there will be no strikes at all at the project and in exchange the unions are guaranteed the jobs. In project labor agreements, there's always a provision for a resolution of any problem,'' he said.

The Project Horizon expansion will add a new 950-room hotel with 260 House of Blues-themed hotel rooms, along with a House of Blues Music Hall, an exclusive members-only House of Blues Foundation room. The expansion will add 115,000 square feet of additional retail and restaurant space, as well as a new 64,000-square-foot gaming facility called Casino of the Wind, which will include a themed poker room. The casino and a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville restaurant will open in the summer, Bozsum said.

The Mohegan tribal chairman described the project labor agreement as a win-win situation.

''If you look at the way things are going everywhere, the work force is a little light right now because there are a lot of projects being finished in Connecticut and we always have supported Connecticut in goods and services; and now what we've done is guarantee to put Connecticut union workers to work so their families can survive,'' Bozsum said.

Around 30 union representatives were on hand for the signing, representing every trade involved in the construction.

''There were pipe fitters, electricians, ironworkers, everyone you could imagine,'' he said. ''The best part of it all is they understand and respect our sovereign rights. We sat down with our TERO [Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance] officer and they have a clear understanding of the TERO rights of our tribal members and their businesses. We're looking forward to working with any one of them.''

Bozsum said Riley came to the table informed with knowledge and understanding about tribal sovereignty and TERO: ''He went and did all this work on his own, the head of all these trade unions. It blew me away.''

Riley said he's been doing business with the tribe for at least a dozen years.

''So it's just out of mutual respect and having knowledge of the people you work with. I figure the Native American people have gone through a lot of struggle in this country and I've always liked history, too.''

He said he started ''looking into'' the Indian Self-Determination Act some time ago, which led to researching TERO and other aspects of Indian law and sovereignty.

''I wanted to understand what could help create a great working relationship and really understanding, say, the TERO and sovereignty issue really did create a great working relationship for the building trades and the Mohegans.''

Riley, an ironworker and business manager of the Iron Workers Union, pointed out that the union has 11,000 Native members.

''So, you see what I mean? For us in the union, working with Native Americans is something we want to do. So for me, I looked at some of those issues and they make sense. TERO makes perfect sense; it's something set up to bring economic well-being to the tribal members and to other tribal entities.

''We recognize the Native employers on the site. We recognize Indian preference in hiring, things like that. So one complements the other. We in organized labor work along with that and it works out fine for everybody.'' Up to 2,500 union workers will be on the site when work begins on the hotel part of project.