Both sides trade barbs in dealers' union fight
By DONALD WITTKOWSKI Staff Writer, (609) 272-7258
Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Press of Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY — A union drive at city casinos is starting to sound more like a nasty political campaign, with each side accusing the other of using intimidation tactics and dirty tricks.
The United Auto Workers union, which is trying to organize casino dealers, released a copy of an internal casino memo that it says shows a clear anti-union bias and lays out a “game plan” by one senior gaming executive to manipulate media coverage of the union drive.
“We resent the fact that this was part of a planned media strategy on the part of the casino,” said Elizabeth Bunn, the UAW's secretary-treasurer.
The casino memo was mistakenly faxed to the union when Anthony Rodio, the regional president of the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort and sister property Resorts Atlantic City, sent a letter to the UAW on Monday asking it to refrain from any type of “intimidation and coercion” of casino dealers.
In the memo, casino labor lawyer Jerold Glassman advised Rodio on how to handle media questions about the union drive, including giving scripted answers on what “Tony should say.”
“It's a game plan, if you will, on how to beat back the union,” said Bunn, whose Detroit office released a copy of the memo.
Rodio denied that the memo included any inflammatory language directed at the UAW and further insisted that there was no attempt on his part to influence the media.
“This was certainly not part of a preconceived campaign to manipulate the media. Absolutely not,” Rodio said.
In an interview Tuesday, Glassman also maintained that the memo wasn't meant to be anti-union, nor was it an attempt to sway media coverage in the casinos' favor.
Rodio said there was nothing wrong with Glassman giving him legal advice about what he could publicly say about the union drive. However, he added that he didn't use the scripted answers and never even read them.
“I don't need notes. I know what I need to talk about,” Rodio said. “I told (Glassman), I don't need this. When the questions are asked, I don't need a script.”
Among other things, Glassman advised Rodio in the memo to “express real concern for the safety of the dealers” who don't support the union. He also stressed that Rodio should tell the media of an alleged incident involving a UAW representative who threatened a Hilton dealer over the telephone.
The UAW is pushing to give casino dealers union representation for the first time in Atlantic City's 29-year history of gaming. Although other unions repeatedly have failed to unionize Atlantic City dealers in the past, the UAW is expressing confidence in this campaign because it has experience representing dealers at three Detroit casinos.
Last week, the National Labor Relations Board in Philadelphia approved the UAW's petition for a union election March 17 involving 860 dealers, cashiers, keno workers and simulcast employees at Caesars. The union has also submitted a petition seeking NLRB approval for a union election at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, which has about 500 to 600 dealers.
Rodio said the UAW is collecting union pledge cards at the Hilton and Resorts and possibly every other casino in town. The UAW's policy is to have at least 60 percent of the workers sign pledge cards symbolizing their support for the union before a formal petition is submitted to the NLRB seeking an election.
Altogether, the Hilton has about 575 dealers and Resorts has 550. According to Rodio, at least 100 dealers at Hilton and Resorts believe they were “misled” into signing union cards and now want to revoke their support for the UAW.
In his letter Monday to the UAW, Rodio said he would be willing to divulge the names of dealers who signed revocation cards only if the union guaranteed that those employees would not be threatened or intimidated.
Rodio released a copy of a handwritten statement by an unidentified Hilton dealer who alleged that a UAW representative threatened her with the loss of her job if she did not support the union.
Questioning whether the incident truly happened, UAW spokesman Roger Kerson said allegations of union harassment are a “very well defined page out of the employer handbook to discourage union representation.”
“We do not condone in any shape or form any harassment or intimidation as part of our campaigns,” Kerson said.
Dealers have approached the UAW out of concern of rising health-care costs, the handling of their 401(k) retirement plans and fears that they will be forced to work in special smoking sections when new casino smoking restrictions begin April 15.
Kerson would not disclose whether the UAW will attempt to unionize all 11 casinos in town or just a select few. Even if it wins just one casino election, the union will gain a foothold in the market that could be expanded later.
“We're proud to assist any workers interested in the benefits of collective bargaining,” Kerson said.
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