Local Unions Notch A Victory At Baltimore’s New Casino

Bruce Vail

Some 500 union members and supporters marched in Baltimore April 20 to demand that government-sponsored commercial developments include good jobs for the city's working families, and to celebrate a new deal for unionized labor at the city's Horseshoe Casino development. (United Workers)

BAL­TI­MORE – Local labor orga­ni­za­tions are claim­ing vic­to­ry this week after bro­ker­ing a pair of agree­ments that will ensure the use of union labor in every aspect of a new $375 mil­lion down­town Bal­ti­more casi­no project. Backed by spe­cial leg­is­la­tion from the Mary­land state gov­ern­ment, the pro­posed Horse­shoe Casi­no is expect­ed to cre­ate 1,200 per­ma­nent jobs.

UNITE HERE and sev­er­al oth­er unions say they are very close to an agree­ment with Cae­sars Enter­tain­ment Corp. to smooth the way for the casi­no’s per­ma­nent staff to be union­ized. The event fol­lows a sep­a­rate Project Labor Agree­ment” deal with con­struc­tion unions final­ized April 2 that spec­i­fies that most of the build­ing work will be done by union-con­tract­ed firms.

UNITE HERE’s arrange­ment with Cae­sars is part of mul­ti-union pact that is expect­ed to see near­ly all of the work­ers at the casi­no become union mem­bers, says UNITE HERE Local 7 Pres­i­dent Rox­ie Her­bekian. The deal pro­vides for a card check” pro­ce­dure to allow unions to be cer­ti­fied once a major­i­ty of work­ers have signed union cards, paired with a neu­tral­i­ty pledge from Cae­sars that it will not active­ly oppose union­iza­tion, she says.

Oth­er local unions that will be orga­niz­ing at the casi­no under the agree­ment will be units of the Team­sters, the Unit­ed Auto Work­ers, Inter­na­tion­al Union of Oper­at­ing Engi­neers (IUOE), and Inter­na­tion­al Alliance of The­atri­cal Stage Employ­ees (IATSE). The five unions will have juris­dic­tion over food and cater­ing, park­ing, card deal­ers and oth­er gam­bling, build­ing oper­a­tion and main­te­nance, and enter­tain­ment production.

Sev­er­al of these unions joined UNITE HERE in spon­sor­ing a ral­ly on April 20 as an ear­ly cel­e­bra­tion on of the deal. The labor orga­ni­za­tions were joined by local com­mu­ni­ty groups Unit­ed Work­ers and Com­mu­ni­ty Church­es Unit­ed, both of which are sharply focused on bring­ing bet­ter qual­i­ty jobs into the Bal­ti­more region. The ral­ly fea­tured an appear­ance by UNITE HERE’s nation­al pres­i­dent, Don­ald Tay­lor, and enthu­si­as­tic work­er del­e­ga­tions from locals in New York, Philadel­phia and Atlantic City, N.J. It was a rare pub­lic appear­ance for Tay­lor (known as D. Tay­lor to his sup­port­ers), who has main­tained a low pub­lic pro­file since he became pres­i­dent of the 250,000-member union five months ago.

We have to rely on each oth­er,” Tay­lor told the crowd, in an implied rebuke to Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty lead­ers who have failed to sup­port union work­ers in orga­niz­ing efforts at Cae­sars, and else­where. We can nev­er rely on the gov­ern­ment. The gov­ern­ment will always do the bid­ding of big busi­ness. … It is up to us to get them to do the right thing.”

The Cae­sars deal was achieved only with the help of the nation­al union and the active sup­port of the locals in oth­er cities, Her­bekian says. UNITE HERE Pres­i­dent Tay­lor lat­er told Work­ing In These Times that he took a direct hand in the nego­ti­a­tions with Cae­sars, which already has UNITE HERE con­tracts at large casi­nos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Union casi­nos account for 60 per­cent of Cae­sars cash flow. So we are impor­tant to them and we try to deal with them on a holis­tic basis,” he told Work­ing In These Times.

Cae­sars main­tains sig­nif­i­cant non-union oper­a­tions around the coun­try (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the river­boat and trib­al gam­ing sec­tors), he remarked, so there was real con­cern that the gam­bling giant was on the path to estab­lish­ing a non-union out­post in Baltimore.

Cae­sars spokesper­son Jan Jones dis­putes this, say­ing the casi­no was nev­er opposed to unions in prin­ci­ple. Delays in both deals, she says, were due to local polit­i­cal demands that Cae­sars agree to spe­cif­ic tar­gets for hir­ing minori­ties and Bal­ti­more city res­i­dents. This caused some sus­pi­cion that Cae­sars was try­ing to block union­iza­tion, she says, and com­pli­cat­ed the nego­ti­a­tions. But she notes that Cae­sars read­i­ly agreed to a request by Mary­land Gov. Mar­tin O’Malley (D) to allow his office to help nego­ti­ate the union deal for the con­struc­tion jobs. Indeed, she cred­its Mary­land Sec­re­tary of State John P. McDo­nough for shep­herd­ing the final build­ing trades agree­ment to a suc­cess­ful conclusion.

Nation­al labor lead­ers were also key to the April 2 con­struc­tion deal, accord­ing to both Jones and Tom Owens, a spokesper­son for the AFL-CIO’s Build­ing & Con­struc­tion Trades Depart­ment (BCTD). The final agree­ment bypassed the local Bal­ti­more Trades Coun­cil and was nego­ti­at­ed direct­ly by BCTD Sec­re­tary-Trea­sur­er Brent Book­er, Owens says. The final agree­ment includ­ed BCTD, Cae­sars and Whit­ing-Turn­er Con­tract­ing Co., a large nation­al con­struc­tion firm.

Fol­low­ing the expect­ed com­ple­tion of the labor agree­ments, the pace of Horse­shoe devel­op­ment is expect­ed to pick up sharply. Although autho­rized some four years ago, progress on the casi­no has been slowed by reg­u­la­to­ry and polti­cal issues, and only kicked into gear recent­ly with a Novem­ber 2012 plebiscite allow­ing expand­ed gam­bling through­out the state. Some prepa­ra­tion work final­ly began late last month at the site, which lies in the shad­ow of the Bal­ti­more Ravens foot­ball stadium.

The union hopes the Horse­shoe agree­ments will break the local mold of gov­ern­ment-spon­sored devel­op­ment in the area, says Local 7’s Her­bekian. For decades, local and state gov­ern­ment enti­ties have lav­ished ben­e­fits on pri­vate for-prof­it busi­ness­es in hopes of stim­u­lat­ing eco­nom­ic renew­al, she says, but the hand­outs were giv­en with lit­tle thought to the qual­i­ty of the jobs gen­er­at­ed or whether work­ing fam­i­lies in the city could sus­tain them­selves. She says that the mul­ti-union effort at Cae­sars rep­re­sents an effort to break that pat­tern and turn more pub­lic atten­tion to the well-being of work­ing people.

Unit­ed Auto Work­ers is a spon­sor of In These Times.

Bruce Vail is a Bal­ti­more-based free­lance writer with decades of expe­ri­ence cov­er­ing labor and busi­ness sto­ries for news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Dai­ly Labor Report, cov­er­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing issues in a wide range of indus­tries, and a mar­itime indus­try reporter and edi­tor for the Jour­nal of Com­merce, serv­ing both in the newspaper’s New York City head­quar­ters and in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. bureau.
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