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Union Solution

Union Solution

One of the thorniest problems facing the casino industry these days, mainly in the United States, is the constant threat of union organization on the casino floor.

While the industry understands that workers on the hotel and non-gaming side of the business can appropriately request unionization, and, if the proper procedures are followed and management cannot satisfy employee demands without a union, casinos will eventually accept it. Hotel and non-gaming unions are a fact of life in the casino industry, so while the casino executives may not be happy that their employees feel it necessary to be organized, they can recognize it.

On the casino side, it’s a different story. Because the integrity of the gaming operation is constantly on the line, executives must be able to remove any employee from the floor at any time they think it’s necessary. If there’s a hint of impropriety from any employee, a casino must be able to nip it in the bud. This means that traditional union procedures such as warnings, write-ups, discipline and eventual dismissal become problematic. A union becomes an alien third party on the casino floor, particularly a union that has no experience in the gaming industry.

That’s the case with the United Auto Workers in the East and the Transport Workers Union in the West. Each union has little or no experience on the casino floor. OK, the UAW represents dealers in Detroit, but that’s only because Detroit is the union’s power base and casinos were forced to accept its involvement in order to “get along” in the heavily unionized state of Michigan.

Both unions have signed up dealers at several casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. The union wants its members to believe that the reason they haven’t reached a contract agreement with any of these casinos is because the casinos are refusing to negotiate in good faith. The real reason, however, is that the unions are dragging their feet in order to sign up more workers in other casinos to gain a bigger negotiating advantage and bring more power to the union itself, with no regard for its potential “members.” These unions are clearly scrambling for new members in the face of falling memberships, and the casino workers are an easy target.

But the fact that there are so many casino workers who have signed up with these do-nothing unions is disturbing. It shows there is a discontent at that level and that the industry needs to address it. Once they’ve signed up with a union, however, it becomes almost impossible to talk to the dealers because of the rigid regulations that govern communication during this supposed “negotiation” period.

So if the dealers are going to be unionized, why not negotiate with a union you can trust, with leadership that truly understands the industry? And who might that be? The UNITE HERE international union, that currently represents the largest number of non-gaming casino resort employees in the country.

Now, there is something of a “gentlemen’s agreement” with UNITE HERE that the gaming industry won’t oppose non-gaming union organization if the union keeps its hands off the casino workers. Well, that horse has already left the barn, so why not allow UNITE HERE to organize the gaming workers?

The union’s leaders understand gaming like no other union. John Wilhelm, the president of the union’s gaming division, is a staunch defender of gaming before Congress and in the media. But Wilhelm is a tireless worker for his members, raising their wages, benefits and standard of living steadily over the past 20 years.

UNITE HERE’s leaders in Las Vegas and Atlantic City—D Taylor and Bob McDevitt, respectively—are brilliant and effective representatives of their members, who understand the way gaming works.

And UNITE HERE also needs the industry’s help. It is under attack by the UAW and the TWU, along with a direct competitor, the Service Employees International Union. By encouraging UNITE HERE to get involved in the representation of casino workers, the industry will help it fend off the assault from these wanna-be gaming unions and create a true partnership that will result in reasonable procedures that will protect the integrity of gaming both on and off the casino floor.

I know this is a radical idea, ill but there needs to be some creative thinking to make the future of the industry and its relationship with its workers healthy and good for everyone.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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