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UAW withdraws after Foxwoods employees reject second union vote

Other union continues organizing efforts

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - The United Auto Workers has withdrawn its petition to organize technicians under federal labor law at Foxwoods Resort & Casino.

The action occurred three days after racebook employees voted 23 - 13 to reject a UAW union at the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation;s gaming facility. The turnout at the May 30 vote represented 90 percent of the total potential pool of 40 voters.

UAW withdrew its petition June 2, hours before the regional National Labor Relations Board's scheduled hearing on whether the technicians would be allowed to vote.

''They did it in the standard manner. They gave us a call and then they confirmed the call in a one-sentence note that said the unit was withdrawing their petition,'' said John Cotter, assistant regional director for the NLRB in Hartford.

''This is the fourth petition we've had to deal with that they have filed under federal law. They withdrew the petition for this particular group of people, and they are free to file a petition for another group or they are free to re-file a petition for this group.''

The racebook employees' vote was the third union vote at Foxwoods in less than a year, and the second to be rejected in less than a month.

Last November, poker dealers voted 1,289 - 852 to form a UAW union under the federal National Labor Relations Act. The tribe has appealed the vote on jurisdictional grounds, arguing that the federal labor laws do not apply on sovereign tribal lands and that workers can organize under tribal labor laws.

On May 1, operating engineers at Foxwoods, including electricians, plumbers and painters, voted 215 - 67 against forming a union under the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30, which also would have been under federal labor laws.

Foxwoods President Barry Cregan said in a release that he was pleased with the outcome of the racebook employees' vote.

''We are very pleased that another group of employees has shown faith in Foxwoods management and their continued efforts to keep Foxwoods as a great place for employees and guests. I am very pleased with the way our racebook team members have conducted themselves.''

Janet Barragan, a racebook writer, said in a UAW release that ''there are a lot of good people working in racebook and we deserve a better future. We deserve better from Foxwoods. We're not giving up.''

The UAW did not return a call seeking comment on why it withdrew its petition.

A Foxwoods spokesman declined to comment on UAW's withdrawal of the petition, which sought to unionize between 80 and 120 slot technicians, electronic bench technicians, field service technicians and senior field service technicians at Foxwoods and MGM Grand at Foxwoods, the nation's new $700 million hotel, convention center and casino on the reservation, which opened May 17.

Riding on its success with the poker dealers, the UAW had pushed unsuccessfully during the recent legislative session for a law banning smoking at Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun on health grounds. In an ironic twist, the UAW filed an unfair labor practice complaint May 15 against Caterpillar Inc. because of its decision to ban smoking on all of its U.S. properties. UAW said the ban goes against the company's contract and that the issue of workers' smoking rights should be subjected to collective bargaining.

But the defeat of two union votes in a row at Foxwoods has raised speculation that the union's first flush of success at organizing the poker dealers may be fading.

Both the UAW and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers were competing to organize the same Foxwoods technicians; but in early May, the AFL-CIO, to which the UAW and IBEW belong, gave the UAW the exclusive right to organize workers at Foxwoods for the next two years.

Cotter said the AFL-CIO decision could be related to UAW's early success at Foxwoods.

''My understanding is they thought UAW had already had a successful foothold and was considered more likely to be able to successfully organize these people.''

Typically, a union withdraws its petition because of declining support.

''In other words, they don't think they can win the election and don't want to expend their resources in terms of litigation, organizing experiences. That's almost always the case. I assume it's the reason here, too,'' Cotter said. ''I don't know that. We don't ask unions for their reason specifically. If they wish to withdraw, we respect that.''

Meanwhile, United Food & Commercial Workers International Union Local 371 is organizing beverage, cleaning and food workers at Foxwoods.

Brian Petronella, the local's president, said that it was ''appropriate'' for the UAW to withdraw its petition ''to try to regroup with those workers'' and re-file a petition for an election.

But the UFCW is moving forward despite the UAW's petition withdrawal.

''We've been going ahead with this since January. In fact, the lawyer from Foxwoods knew we are doing this and they sent me a letter. They wanted us to go through tribal law,'' Petronella told Indian Country Today.

The union won't file a petition under the tribe's labor laws.

''After reading the tribal law, there are too many laws in there that really wouldn't protect the workers,'' he said. He did not specify which laws those were.

UFCW is working to organize 500 to 2,000 Foxwoods employees, and is waiting for a solid majority before they file for an election, but Petronella acknowledged that a positive vote will most likely result in an appeal by Foxwoods.

''I anticipate a long, drawn-out process. We expect this will go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.''

Mashantucket has vowed to take the core issue - tribal sovereignty - through federal courts.

The tribe maintains that employees may unionize under tribal law, said Jackson T. King, the nation's general counsel. The laws are available at www.mptnlaw.com.