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Facebook page a lifeline for Foxwoods' furloughed employees

Mashantucket — It used to teem with fond memories, anecdotes and nods to such shared milestones as birthdays, anniversaries and deaths.

Now, it's mostly a how-to site — as in how to sign up for unemployment.

Valerie Mayze, who administers the Facebook group page "You Know You Worked at Foxwoods When ...," said the page can be a lifeline for Foxwoods Resort Casino's more than 5,000 furloughed employees, many of whom have been seeking the page's help and encouragement in applying for unemployment benefits amid the coronavirus pandemic. More than a few have expressed frustration with the process.

"It's disheartening to feel alone, like you have nowhere to turn, no way to ask questions," said Mayze, a furloughed Foxwoods reservations agent who's commuted to the casino from Thompson for 22 years. She founded the Facebook page nine years ago and has watched the group's membership climb from 1,900 to about 2,300 in the little more than three weeks since the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe closed Foxwoods for the first time in its 28-year history.

She believes many more would join if they knew the group existed.

A lot of members are former employees, Mayze said, though it's the current, furloughed employees who are now flocking to the site. She said they understand it's important Foxwoods weathers the coronavirus storm.

"I'd rather have a job to go back to than be paid now," she said.

Mashantucket tribal members, Foxwoods "higher ups" and casino-goers visit the page, which neither the tribe nor casino management officially sanction. Mayze makes sure the page maintains a respectful, positive tone.

"I don't allow people to discredit our workplace," she said. "I don't want a customer going off about losing, or an employee complaining about a supervisor. We're a family."

When college students from Peru lost their jobs at Foxwoods and couldn't get home, Mayze allowed them to call attention to their plight in a post on the Facebook page.

Casino management acknowledged that the page has its place.

"Foxwoods Resort Casino remains fully committed to supporting our team members and partners however we can through this time," Dale Merrill, Foxwoods' senior vice president of human resources and administration, said in a statement. "We are prioritizing ongoing and direct communication with our teams via Foxwoods' employee website and other apps that offer unemployment guidance, job boards, updated resources, FAQs and more. ... This is a time for everyone to come together and we appreciate all the ways our team members are connecting and supporting the Foxwoods community."

Mayze, who these days spends a fair amount of time on the phone with the state Department of Labor, said she's thought about changing the Facebook page's name but wouldn't make a move without running it by group members.

"It comes off sort of like it's a joke, but people have said they like it," she said. "I thought about 'Foxwoods Back of the House,' or 'FoxFamily.'"

On March 31, George Potts, deputy chief of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Police Department, took to the page to announce that Officer Tom Miskell would be playing the bagpipes on the tribe's reservation every night at dusk, as police officers and firefighters across the country are doing.

"The bagpipes have a tradition of inspiring courage and resolve in times of distress," Potts wrote.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com 

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