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Mashantuckets seek to overturn union election at Foxwoods

By Stephen Singer
Hartford, Connecticut (AP)1-08

The Mashantucket Pequots faced opposition from the United Auto Workers and National Labor Relations Board Tuesday as the tribe sought to overturn the results of a union election for dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

The NLRB, which oversaw the Nov. union election, began a hearing in Hartford on the tribe’s contention that it failed to include ballots and election notices in two Chinese languages spoken by 700 workers.

The tribe also claimed the UAW intimidated workers as it sought to unionize them.

Foxwoods dealers voted 1,289 to 852 in favor of the UAW representing them. The vote followed a campaign on issues such as pay, health insurance and cigarette smoking by casino customers.

The hearing, which was packed with workers and union backers wearing “Yes Means Yes” buttons, is expected to last several days with testimony about the union campaign and election.

Tribal officials say the Mashantucket tribe and Foxwoods are not subject to the jurisdiction of the NLRB, though a federal court ruled in February 2007 that federal labor law applies to Indian tribes and their gambling businesses.

“The tribal nation has a detailed labor relations statute that protects employees’ rights to join labor unions and to engage in collective bargaining, and that statute alone should govern the gaming enterprise,” said the Mashantuckets’ lawyer, Richard Hankins of Atlanta.

Administrative law judge Raymond Green overruled lawyers for the Mashantuckets who sought immunity from a subpoena for documents by the UAW. The tribe’s lawyers said the Mashantuckets are sovereign and are not required to comply with the subpoena.

Green said he lacked authority to grant immunity to the tribe.

Hankins faulted the NLRB for what he said was its failure to provide election notices and ballots in Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese.

“How much trouble could it have been to put the ballot in a language the workers understood?” he asked.

William O’Connor, a lawyer for the NLRB, said the agency has broad discretion to determine which languages to use during union elections. In addition, all dealers are required to speak English and all manuals at Foxwoods are in English, he said.

Foxwoods dealers understood how they voted just as they are “able to understand that the customer wants another card,” O’Connor said.

Thomas W. Meiklejohn, a Hartford lawyer for the UAW, denied that workers were intimidated by the union.

“The casino itself has more security than a federal courthouse or an airport,” he said.

A decision is expected in a few weeks.