Foxwoods workers testify for bill on employers' 'captive audience' meetings

Foxwoods Resort Casino management has stepped up its efforts to discourage cleaning workers from unionizing, a worker told state lawmakers Wednesday during a public hearing in Hartford.

“Now that we’ve filed an election petition, management is pulling us together on the casino floor in small groups, catching us when we are alone, or ordering us into the office for one-on-one meetings that have lasted up to 45 minutes,” said Chris Dowd, who works in Foxwoods' Environmental Services Department, reading from written testimony he submitted to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. 

Dowd, joined at the hearing by a half-dozen other Foxwoods ESD workers, testified in support of a bill that would prohibit an employer from coercing employees into attending so-called “captive audience meetings” concerning the employer’s views on political or religious matters, including the decision to join a union.

The New England Joint Board of Unite Here facilitated the Foxwoods workers’ attendance at the hearing, Dowd, 65, of Jewett City, said in a phone interview following the session. Dowd said Foxwoods management has scheduled meetings Thursday with entire shifts of ESD workers.

“They’re going to take everybody off the floor, about 80 people per shift, and meet in the Fox Theater,” he said. “It’s mandatory.”

Foxwoods representatives did not respond to requests for comment.

The New England Joint Board of Unite Here has been organizing about 300 Foxwoods ESD workers for more than a year. About two weeks ago, the union petitioned management for an election in accordance with the labor law adopted by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods. About 70 percent of the workers signed cards authorizing the petition, according to a union official.

Dowd said management has been distributing anti-union material to workers.

“They say: ‘Why are you doing this?’ ... ‘It’s really not in your best interest.’ ... ‘They just want your money.’ ... ‘They just want your dues,’” he said. “They printed out a list of how much union officials make — information you can get online. I’d like to know how much Felix Rappaport makes. You can’t find that online.”

Rappaport is Foxwoods’ president and chief executive officer.

Dowd and other ESD workers say they sought union affiliation in a bid for better pay and benefits, better treatment and because they fear being “outsourced” to cut costs, as workers in some other Foxwoods departments have been. Dowd said he’s confident the ESD workers will vote for union affiliation in the upcoming election, which has yet to be scheduled.

While union officials generally support the bill on captive audience meetings, trade groups and employers oppose it.

In written testimony in favor of the bill, Lori Pelletier, president of Connecticut AFL-CIO, contends it does not restrict employers’ free speech.

“Rather,” she writes, “it allows an employee the right — when the subject of the meeting is about the employers’ position on politics, religion or labor organizing — to stop listening, to walk away and not participate without the fear of facing discipline or termination.”

Eric Gjede, counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, testified that the bill “unreasonably interferes with the relationships between employers and employees” because, among other things, it would “Inhibit an employer’s ability to give their views on the impact collective bargaining would have on a business ...”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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