No end in sight for Foxwoods dealers' contract negotiations

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Mashantucket - Unionized dealers at Foxwoods Resort Casino ratified their historic first contract with the casino-owning Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in January 2010, marking the end of a negotiating process that had begun 14 months earlier.

It appears it could take just as long or longer for the parties to agree on a second contract to replace the first, which expired Dec. 31, 2011.

Neither side has been commenting publicly, but in a posting on its website, Local 2121 of the UAW says it's fighting to contain members' health care costs and to secure "decent raises" and investments in cleaner casino air, among other things.

Foxwoods management, according to the union, wants "astronomical health insurance increases," a three-year wage freeze and the right to stop the 401(k) match for employees for a year.

"Dealers and dual rates have to stand together!" the union's bargaining committee says on the site. "What is at stake is whether we will go forward or backward economically and whether we will keep the job protections that we fought so hard to win in our first contract."

Scott Butera, Foxwoods' president and chief executive officer, said Friday he was not at liberty to talk about the contract negotiations. Earlier, a spokesman for the tribe said the same thing, and Mary Johnson, the Local 2121 president, said she, too, was unable to comment while negotiations are in an arbitration phase.

Foxwoods employees, however, both union and nonunion, have been contacting The Day in recent weeks to complain about cost-cutting by management and what they described as department-by-department layoffs, albeit none in great numbers. All of the employees spoke on condition of anonymity.

Just last week, several employees said, the casino laid off dozens of cafeteria workers who prepared and served employees' meals. Before that, a number of janitorial staff and cashiers were let go, employees said.

"I'm not sure what you're hearing, but it's nothing out of the ordinary," Butera said when questioned about such layoffs. "We're always working to match our head count to the demand. We haven't changed the service we provide or any programs one bit."

Asked whether Foxwoods was simply operating with fewer workers, he said, "It's not even that. It's just routine."

Butera said that in an organization with 8,000 employees, "you're going to have some people coming in and some going out" at all times. He said Foxwoods remains one of the largest casino employers in the world.

By comparison, Mohegan Sun recently laid off more than 300 employees - its second round of mass layoffs in two years - reducing its workforce to 6,400 people.

Both Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun have been experiencing declining revenues over the last five years. The casinos' release last week of their slot machine revenues for October was the latest example. The numbers showed Foxwoods' slots revenue for the month was down 15.6 percent over October 2011, while Mohegan Sun's declined 17.6 percent, believed to be the biggest monthly decline in its 16-year history.

October's revenues reflected the impact of Hurricane Sandy, which knocked out power at homes and businesses and disrupted lives throughout the region at the end of the month.

The weak economy and growing competition in the Northeast gaming market were blamed for the Mohegan Sun layoffs, and they are the same forces driving the Mashantuckets' efforts to diversify Foxwoods' offerings.

The tribe began operating a gas station near Foxwoods last week, part of its 5,000-square-foot Pequot Outpost, which will include a Burger King and a convenience store. The complex is expected to officially open Dec. 1. Developers are also expected to break ground soon on a 312,000-square-foot outlet mall connecting Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

"The gas station and the stores are going to be opening, and we're working on a master plan for our retail and food and beverage," Butera said. "There's a lot of development, a lot of positive stuff going on here."

Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun will face increased competition in Rhode Island, where voters have approved a full-fledged casino in Lincoln. Twin River held a job fair last week that attracted, among others, former and current workers from the two local casinos.


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