MASHANTUCKET - "We have voted and we now have a contract!" exclaimed a game-table dealer and member of UAW Local 2121 at Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand complex on Friday night. As the totals of the 24-hour vote were announced - 1053 in favor and 355 against.- she realized her local had made history with the first union contract in the country negotiated under tribal law instead of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The two-year contract was won by 2,500 dealers at the largest casino in the country after three years of organizing and 14 months of negotiations.
"Our settlement demonstrates what we have known all along: that tribal sovereignty and employee rights need not be inconsistent." said Bob Madore director of UAW Region 9A "We value the investment and jobs the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe has brought to Connecticut, and we look forward to promoting this exciting resort as a destination of choice for working families and union members across New England," he said.
The agreement was hailed by Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council chairman Rodney Butler as "the first collective bargaining agreement to acknowledge tribal jurisdiction, which was the basis on which both parties expended extraordinary efforts to reach an agreement." He said.the agreement "demonstrates the vibrant and effective legal system of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the ability of tribal systems to administer matters relating to labor organizations."
Speaking for the casino management company, Mashantucket Pequot Gaming Enterprise, president Michael Speller said the agreement "gives management the operational flexibility and cost controls necessary to remain competitive in the current economic climate." The company has been hit with financial losses after building the MGM Grand in 2008, coinciding with the economic crisis.
The diverse workforce which includes many Asian and Latin American workers, won improved wages and working conditions, and a seniority and grievance system.
"We worked hard to get dealers a fair contract," said Yan Mei Shi, who has worked at the casino for six and a half years. "Dealers deserve job stability and fair treatment on the job, and this agreement is a great advancement."
A big issue was division of tokes (tips), which represent two-thirds of income. The contract stipulates that all tokes will be pooled and divided equally including workers at the new high-end MGM Grand and the larger Foxwoods casino. The average base-rate of pay, $5.90 an hour will increase by 12 percent over two years and the toke-rate, which averages $14.14 an hour, will increase by $1.32.
The UAW considers the health and safety language in the contract "an industry model.". Medical leave for serious illness is extended from six months to a year. A 24-table "smoke-free pit" separated from other gaming areas will be established for dealers with conditions aggravated by secondhand smoke. Air-testing and ventilation systems will be established.
"Such steps go beyond those the state called for in an agreement the tribe reached last year with Gov. M. Jodi Rell," the union said.
The dealers won a seniority system to govern layoffs, and improved opportunities to advance from "flexible" to part-time to full-time status. A new dispute-resolution procedure allows for unresolved employee grievances to be settled by a third-party arbitrator. Under tribal law strikes and lockouts are prohibited.
The UAW also represents casino workers in Atlantic City and Detroit.