|By Mark Belko, Pittsburgh
Post-GazetteMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 6, 2009--Two unions are seeking to organize thousands of employees at the Rivers Casino, about three months after the North Shore venue opened its doors.
About 84 security and surveillance employees will vote Monday on whether to join the International Union, Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America amid charges that the casino is trying to obstruct the effort.
At the same time, the United Steelworkers of America has begun an effort to reach out to a number of casino employees who have expressed an interest in organizing, said Michael Yoffee, USW organizing director.
"We've been contacted by dozens of employees at the Rivers Casino about their interest in organizing and having a voice on the job," Mr. Yoffee said in an e-mail. "Many of these contacts are coming through Steelworker and other union retirees who are the bread-and-butter customers of the casino."
Yesterday, the SPFPA filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the casino, claiming that managers have been threatening workers with less desirable working conditions and the loss of wages, benefits and privileges, such as free parking and free meals, if they vote to unionize.
And Wednesday night, according to Steve Maritas, SPFPA organizing director, a Rivers supervisor ordered security workers to remove union buttons from their uniforms. When they refused, the supervisor, the union claims, got angry and ripped buttons from the uniforms of two employees.
In a news release issued yesterday, Mr. Maritas said the casino had hired the national Jackson Lewis LLP law firm, which specializes in labor and employment issues and which Mr. Maritas described as a union buster, to help fight the organizing effort.
Despite the alleged threats, Mr. Maritas said he expected the union to prevail in Monday's vote. "The problem is these guys want some respect out there. Their wages are real low, $9.50 an hour. They have families. It's not affordable to live [on such wages]," he said.
In response to the charges, the casino released a statement saying, in part, "Our management at no time would condone any behavior that might intrude upon workers' rights, and we will continue supporting our team members at every occasion."
It added, "Since our August debut, Rivers Casino has established a culture of mutual respect and collaboration with our entire work force."
Casino spokesman Jack Horner declined further comment. He would not say whether the Jackson Lewis law firm had been hired.
The SPFPA currently represents security employees at three Detroit casinos as well as several smaller ones around the county. It also represents about 2,000 security workers in hospitals and other buildings in Pittsburgh, Mr. Maritas said.
Mr. Yoffee said the Steelworkers' union was supporting the SPFPA campaign. The USW, meanwhile, is seeking to organize as many as 800 nonsecurity employees at the Rivers.
The union, he said, has made "steady progress" in the effort.
"I think that people are looking for more of a voice, more of a say, and they're looking for representation and security," he said. "Right now, they are 'employees at will,' meaning they can be fired for any reason at any time."
Dave La Torre, a spokesman for The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Washington County, said there were discussions under way about organizing food and beverage and environmental employees. He said he was not aware of any talks involving employees in gambling-related jobs at this point.
"We've maintained a neutral status toward organization at The Meadows," he said. "We have not opposed organization in any way. We have not prevented it. We have not done card checks. The door is open."
Richard McGarvey, a spokesman for the state Gaming Control Board, said some employees in some Pennsylvania casinos belonged to unions, but he did not have a list available last night.
Reach Mark Belko at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.
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