California approves huge expansion of Indian gambling in exchange 6-29-07

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) - California's state legislature has agreed to allow an expansion of American Indian casino gambling in exchange for hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to the state, ending a logjam that had pitted labor groups against tribes.

Labor leaders said they opposed the deals, which came Thursday as part of a debate to pass the state budget, because they did not contain enforceable provisions to protect casino employees or give unions the right to organize.

“This is a very serious abandonment of 100,000 workers in the state,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO.

The compacts will allow four Southern California tribes to add 17,000 slot machines to their casinos, a 30 percent increase in the number currently operating statewide.

Schwarzenegger and five tribes agreed last year to the gambling expansion, deciding that the tribes would get to add thousands of slot machines, and in return state government would receive millions per year.

Assembly Democrats blocked the deals because labor groups, among their most important allies, objected. They wanted the right to organize casino workers and sought provisions that would force tribes to adhere to state and federal labor laws.

Schwarzenegger revived the compacts this year, pushing lawmakers to approve them as a way to help balance the state's budget. The Senate passed them in April, but they stalled in the Assembly.

This week, Schwarzenegger, the tribes and legislative leaders worked out a compromise in which the tribes would voluntarily agree to some concessions sought by unions and Democrats. Compacts with four of the five tribes sailed through the Assembly on Thursday after Speaker Fabian Nunez said the tribes had agreed verbally to allow unions to organize casino workers - something some legislators weren't happy with.

Nunez said some tribal leaders had offered to commit their union-organizing pledges to writing, but that he said it was unnecessary because he would announce it on the floor.

Nunez, a former labor organizer in Los Angeles, said he could not negotiate all the safeguards sought by union leaders because the Legislature is only ratifying compacts previously negotiated by the governor.

“Somehow, an undue burden is placed on me to do the work that is done by the administration and not by the Legislature,” Nunez said.

The four gambling tribes whose compacts won approval are the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation in San Diego; the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians in Temecula; the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians in Palm Springs; and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in Cabazon.

A fifth, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in San Bernardino, would not agree to provisions favorable to labor. That tribe's compact remains in limbo in the Assembly.

The governor's office has estimated the gambling expansion, assuming the five compacts were approved, would pump more than $500 million (euro371 million) a year into state coffers over the 25-year life of the agreements. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said the figure would be closer to $200 million (euro149 million) next year.

Mark Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga tribe, said in a statement that the compacts “will be a cornerstone for future generations of Pechanga. We look forward to the opportunities and certainty this compact provides Pechanga, California and our local community.”