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Turned down: Foxwoods employees reject union

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - Poker dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino formed a union under federal labor laws last fall; but in the latest unionization effort, employees rejected union representation by a vote of more than 3 to 1.

The vote took place May 1 - International Workers; Day - when employees in Foxwoods' engineering, facilities, projects, engineering apprenticeship and interior landscape departments voted 215 to 67 against representation by Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, a Washington-based labor union.

''We are very pleased with the vote of confidence that employees have given Foxwoods management,'' said Foxwoods Interim President Barry Cregan. ''Those team members displayed outstanding professionalism through the entire process and clearly agreed that having an intermediary come between us wasn't necessary. We look forward confidently to an exciting future where we will do everything we can to make Foxwoods better than ever for employees and guests.''

The International Union of Operating Engineers did not return a call seeking comment by press time.

Foxwoods' poker dealers voted 1,289 to 852 last November to form a United Auto Workers union. The vote is believed to have been the first successful union vote in an Indian casino under the National Labor Relations Act rather than tribal law.

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns Foxwoods, has maintained from the beginning of the unionization process last year that the federal labor law and the National Labor Relations Board that oversees it do not have jurisdiction on sovereign tribal land. Employees may unionize under tribal law, which is modeled on state governmental laws and provide the same rights to organize unions, bargain collectively and seek arbitration - and the same prohibition against striking.

At the end of March, the nation filed an appeal with the NLRB in Washington of an administrative law judge's decision to certify the poker dealers' UAW election. The appeal deals with some procedural issues surrounding the vote, but the nation's main challenge is that sovereign tribal nations with a government-to-government relationship with the federal government are not subject to federal laws, such as the NLRA.

The defeat of the IUOE vote leaves three other labor organizing efforts at Foxwoods pending.

The UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers are competing to organize technicians at Foxwoods.

The UAW filed a petition with the regional NLRB office in Hartford April 14 to unionize slot technicians, electronic bench technicians, field service technicians and senior field service technicians. The IBEW filed a petition to organize the same employees a week earlier. Both unions said their organizing efforts are supported by at least 30 percent of employees in the potential bargaining unit.

The UAW petition included employees at MGM Grand at Foxwoods, which is scheduled to open May 17.

It's not clear how the unions will resolve the issue of which union has jurisdiction over organizing the employees.

The UAW filed another petition April 15 to unionize racebook writers and dual-rate racebook writers in the casino's off-track betting area.

On April 24, attorneys for the nation and the UAW appeared at an NLRB hearing to argue their cases for and against a union vote by the racebook writers.

Alston D. Correll, an attorney for the nation, argued again that federal labor laws and the NLRB do not have jurisdiction on sovereign tribal land.

Correll was scheduled to submit a legal brief arguing the jurisdictional issue by May 1.

NLRB Regional Director Peter B. Hoffman will render a decision over the following weeks as to whether an election should be held.

Mashantucket Pequot Chairman Michael Thomas has vowed to challenge the jurisdictional issue through the federal courts.

Jackson King, the nation's general counsel, said in a prepared statement that the nation continues to cooperate on a government-to-government basis with the NLRB while legal challenges are pending.

''It is the longstanding policy of the United States to encourage and support tribal self-government. Mashantucket Pequot laws provide a fair process for employees to select union representation if they so desire. We continue to believe that tribal law should apply in these matters,'' King said.

The recent union defeat throws a spotlight on how the mainstream media reports on events in Indian country - particularly at Indian casinos. The Hartford Courant, the state's largest newspaper, reported the poker dealers' successful union vote last fall prominently on the front page. The paper's story in its May 2 edition, of the facility's employees voting against a union, was reported on page B9.