Foxwoods OKs nonunion pay raises in face of fiscal 'challenge'

Mashantucket - Despite the "difficult financial time" it's facing, Foxwoods Resort Casino has granted nonunion employees 2 percent raises for the second year in a row.

Scott Butera, the casino's president and chief executive officer, announced the increases Friday, informing workers that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council and Foxwoods' senior management were committed to recognizing their efforts. The Indian tribe owns the casino.

"As you may know, Foxwoods is still negotiating through a difficult financial time," Butera wrote in a letter to employees. "While we are working hard to improve our financial condition, the soft economy remains a challenge to our business levels."

The tribe's protracted bid to restructure more than $2 billion in debt has been much publicized.

According to Butera's letter, nonunion employees who were at Foxwoods prior to April 1, 2011, will receive the greater of 2 percent of their salary or 20 cents per hour. Salaried employees who earn $100,000 or more will not receive a raise.

"We believe this increase, coupled with our competitive health care plan, 401(k) retirement plan and other benefits create a rewarding environment for our team members," Butera wrote.

The announcement comes as Foxwoods negotiates contracts with unions representing about 2,600 employees.

UAW at Foxwoods, Local 2121, whose members include about 2,200 table-games dealers and "dual rates" - dealers who at times serve as supervisors - is seeking its second contract, while about 400 beverage workers represented by Local 371 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union are pursuing their first agreement with the casino. Local 371's bartenders, beverage servers, lounge hosts and bar porters voted to affiliate with the union last May.

A third union representing Foxwoods workers, Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, ratified its first contract with the tribe last October. The three-year deal that extends to March 31, 2014, covers about 280 members, including carpenters, carpet and tile installers, electricians, HVAC technicians, locksmiths, painters, plumbers and upholsterers.

Once Foxwoods and the beverage workers reach an agreement, nearly a third of the casino's workforce will be represented by labor unions. A Foxwoods spokeswoman said management was not at liberty to discuss pending union negotiations.

UAW at Foxwoods' historic first contract, a two-year deal ratified in January 2010, was set to expire at the end of 2011. The union and management, however, agreed to extend the agreement through March, if necessary, to allow negotiations to proceed.

Mary Johnson, the union's president, declined Monday to characterize the ongoing talks. She said four negotiating sessions are scheduled before the end of the month between the union's negotiating committee and the casino's representatives.

The current contract provided an average 12 percent wage increase over the two years, including raises totaling 40 cents an hour in 2011.

"We're happy they got raises," Johnson said, referring to the nonunion workers. "It doesn't cover the cost of living, but we're happy for them."

Asked if the union was pushing for raises of more than 2 percent, she said, "Definitely. We hope to do better."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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