Foxwoods table-games dealers, Mashantuckets give tentative nod to historic contract

Mashantucket — Fourteen months after negotiations began, the union for some 2,500 table-games dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods have reached tentative agreement on a historic first-ever contract with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns the casinos.

Members of UAW at Foxwoods - Local 2121 - will vote Friday to ratify the two-year deal that affords them an average wage increase of 12 percent; a more equitable distribution of tips; extended medical leave; a segregated, smoke-free gaming area; greater job security and new procedures for resolving disputes with management. Voting will take place from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Foxwoods.

The union announced the agreement Tuesday afternoon, calling it a "historic first union contract with Foxwoods" and the first in the country negotiated under tribal law.

"This is a great victory for us," Denise Gladue, a baccarat dealer who's been working at Foxwoods for 15 years, said in the union's statement. "This preserves our basic benefits during a tough economy, provides job security and contract improvements in so many areas. We see this agreement as a win-win for employees and for the future success of the casino."

Contract negotiations began Nov. 25, 2008, soon after the tribe agreed to certify the UAW as the exclusive bargaining unit for Foxwoods dealers. At the time, the sides agreed to negotiate under tribal rather than federal law, ending a yearlong legal dispute. Tribal law prohibits strikes by workers and lockouts by the employer and provides for an arbitration process to settle issues the parties cannot resolve themselves.

"Negotiations began when the union agreed that tribal law would apply rather than the National Labor Relations Act," the tribe said in a statement Tuesday night. "This is the first union contract to acknowledge tribal jurisdiction, which was the basis on which both parties expended extraordinary efforts to reach an agreement."

According to union sources, the contract negotiations had entered an arbitration phase in August over management's refusal to recognize the UAW as the bargaining representative for dealers at MGM Grand, who, sources said, benefited from a more lucrative "toke," or tip, pool than their Foxwoods Resort Casino counterparts.

MGM Grand opened in May 2008, six months after the dealers voted to affiliate with the UAW.

The agreement announced Tuesday covers some 2,200 dealers and so-called "dual-rates" - dealers who at times perform a supervisory function - at Foxwoods as well as about 360 dealers and dual-rates at MGM Grand. The toke pools at the two casinos will be merged, providing for a more fair distribution of tips, the union said.

Foxwoods dealers average about $35,000 a year in wages and tips, with tips accounting for as much as two-thirds of the total, according to the union. Many of the dealers are minorities, including Asian, Haitian and Latino immigrants, the union said.

The contract calls for a 12 percent wage increase over two years and an immediate toke-rate hike of $1.32 an hour. Last year, the Foxwoods toke rate was $14.14 an hour. The current base pay rate for dealers is $5.90 an hour.

Other key provisions of the agreement address health and safety issues, creating "an industry model," the union said. The contract would extend the length of medical leave for seriously ill workers from six months to a year and provide for the establishment of a 24-table "smoke-free pit" separated from other gaming areas for the benefit of dealers susceptible to secondhand smoke. Under the agreement, the tribe and the union would work together on air-testing protocols and ventilation systems. 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 also secured job-protection language requiring that layoffs be based on seniority. Opportunities for advancement from "flexible" to part-time to full-time status would be improved. Under a new dispute-resolution procedure, unresolved employee grievances would be settled by a third-party arbitrator.

While new hires will be bound by an appearance policy that prohibits long hair and facial hair, current dealers would not be required to cut their hair or remove facial hair, the union said. Union dues, which will be assessed when the contract takes effect, will be capped at $34 a month.

The UAW said it also represents gaming employees at four casinos in Atlantic City and three in Detroit.

Key provisions:

The dealers' agreement with Foxwoods provides for:

• Average 12 percent wage increase over two years

• Merging of "toke" pools at Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods

• Medical leave extended from six months to a year

• Number of "casual" dealers reduced through promotion to part-time status with benefits

• Establishment of 24-table "smoke-free pit"

• New grievance procedure


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