3/27/08

UFCW preps labor-state casino strike

More than 200 video lottery employees at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort in Chester, WV could go on strike Saturday. Members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 23 voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to reject Mountaineer’s final contract offer and authorize the strike.

Kevin Kilroy, UFCW Local 23 director of public affairs, said the workers have been covered by an extension since March 1, the contract expiration date. After the vote, however, a 72-hour notice of termination for that extension was sent out, meaning that if an agreement is not reached, the strike will go into effect at 12:01 am Saturday.

“Membership is very upset,” said Kilroy. “The wage offer was substandard, in some cases substantially.”

Kilroy said that the wage offer was not comparable to the wages earned by employees at other local establishments, including Wheeling Island Racetrack. Depending on employee classification, Kilroy said that some workers at Presque Isle Downs in Erie, PA, which is owned by a sister company of Mountaineer, already make more, even though that facility has only been open about a year.

Kilroy added that some of their members are earning wages that qualify them for food stamps, school lunch programs, energy assistance, and the children’s health insurance program. “Instead of the good paying jobs we were all promised, it’s actually a drain on the taxes,” Kilroy said.

Another point of contention is the health care offered, which Kilroy said 25% of their members do not take advantage of because they cannot afford it.

Kilroy said that some workers pay as much as 31 percent of health care costs, while management only pays 17 to 18 percent.

“I don’t know why that is. It’s a bit curious,” said Kilroy.

Marshall Berman, the attorney representing Mountaineer in the negotiations, said that wages are set by local management and that it is hardly surprising if wages differ in geographical areas.

“Our position is a sound position,” said Berman. “We are paying exactly the wages called for in the union’s contract with us ...We regard their statements as being suspect at best.”

Berman said that Mountaineer has been working with unions for 30 to 40 years and that “it is inevitable” that a situation like the current one will occur.

“The union is always going to find something to complain about,” Berman said.

Berman said the negotiations are taking place through a federal mediator and that both parties are at the call of that mediator. “We are prepared to negotiate with the union anytime, anywhere,” said Berman.

Kilroy said the union is also prepared to return to negotiations. “We’re open for discussion, and we’re ready to bargain,” said Kilroy.

When asked if Mountaineer could reach an agreement with the union in time to avoid a strike, Berman replied, “We would hope so.”

If a strike were to occur, Berman said that Mountaineer would cover the workers with supervisors, managers, and other Mountaineer employees, adding that the UFCW Local 23 workers represent less than 10 percent of Mountaineer’s workforce.

All departments at Mountaineer would remain open. “For our customers, it will be business as usual,” Berman said.

(reviewonline.com)

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