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Oneidas say no to state negotiations

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ONEIDA NATION HOMELANDS, N.Y. - New York state is looking for a slice of the Indian gaming pie, but Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter asserted he will not budge in negotiations. More than 1,000 of the 3,700 employees gathered at the Turning Stone Casino showroom on Dec. 11 to listen as Halbritter emphasized the nation's support for employees. "I am telling you and I'm telling the state, we are not negotiating these jobs. If the state takes that to mean that negotiations on other issues are on hold, then that's what it means."

A lawsuit brought by an anti-treaty rights group, Upstate Citizens for Equality (UCE) has challenged the compacts that allowed Turning Stone to open in 1993. They argue they are not valid because legislators never approved them. However, last week the state dropped their support for the appeal and tightened the focus on renegotiating the terms of the agreement including sharing a portion of the casino's profits with the state and local governments.

Halbritter urged employees to let Gov. George Pataki not to "gamble" with their jobs. "I've dealt with these people for a long time and let me tell you, Albany does not respect Central New York and they don't respect you," he continued. "If they did, they wouldn't try holding hostage the jobs of the people who live here."

The Nation is completing a $308 million expansion at the resort and is expected to bring 1,000 new jobs to the area. The new jobs will boost the Nation's annual payroll which is currently $85 million.

Halbritter's message was clear for the state to leave the workers out of negotiations. He stressed that the Nation will not negotiate or settle. "We will not have a settlement and if that's the way they want to play. We'll take it to court, and we don't do so bad in court."

The lawsuit with UCE goes to Judge James McCarthy who should rule early in the New Year.