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Casino workers cast their lot with UAW

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KAI RYSSDAL: This has been a big year for the United Auto Workers union. Strikes at two of the “Big Three” carmakers, major new contracts at all three of the Big Three and today, workers at the country’s largest casino voted to sign up for union cards. About 3,000 dealers at Foxwoods in Connecticut will be represented by the UAW. It’s the first union to break into one of those tribal casinos.

Marketplace’s Alisa Roth tells us who really hit the jackpot.


ALISA ROTH: Until this year, many tribes claimed that as sovereign nations they were exempt from federal labor laws. Which meant, they didn’t have to give casino workers the right to unionize or bargain collectively. A lawsuit in California changed that. The Foxwoods vote is the first practical application of that change.

Bill Thompson studies the gaming industry at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

BILL THOMPSON: I think this is the signal that we’re going to bring the tribes into the same legal framework as other casinos regarding rights of workers, and rights of players and rights of other people that are in the establishment, and this is a good thing.

The National Indian Gaming Association says tribal casinos brought in more than $25 billion last year. About a third of the jobs in the gaming industry are in tribal casinos. As for the UAW, casino employees may sound like a far cry from auto workers, but despite its name, the UAW has always had a broad mission.

Gene Carroll is with the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations, and he says that inclusive approach is especially important as union membership declines nationwide.

GENE CARROLL: You have more members, you have more political contributions to its PAC fund, you have higher rate of voting in elections, union people vote in larger numbers than non-union people, and there is a general enhancement of the union’s goals if you have more members, particularly in diverse industries.

And the UAW’s already familiar with the needs of workers in the gaming industry. The union represents employees at three casinos in the Detroit area.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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