Teamsters take aim at Saginaw casino

Teamsters Local 486 announced Wednesday that members of the housekeeping staff will have the opportunity to vote that day on whether to be represented by the Teamsters union.

About 300 people are members of the Soaring Eagle's housekeeping staff. The vote will be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, and is to take place in the Three Fires Room of the Soaring Eagle conference center.

Polls will be open from 5 to 10 a.m., and again from 3 to 8 p.m. The Teamsters say they expect the ballots will be counted immediately after the polls close at 8 p.m.

The vote comes despite the quiet adoption of an ordinance by the Saginaw (MI) Chippewa Indian Tribal Council that claims Tribal sovereignty in matters of labor relations, and effectively outlaws collective bargaining by employees of Tribal-owned enterprises.

The Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort is the largest Tribal-owned enterprise, generating millions of dollars in revenue for the Tribe and its members. NLRB documents say about 90 percent of Tribal revenue is generated by the Soaring Eagle.

The NLRB has long held that employees of Native-owned casinos have a right to organize. Tribes, including the Saginaw Chippewa, argue that's a violation of Tribal sovereignty, and the Tribes themselves should set the rules for labor relations.

But a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that a California Tribe that employed predominately non-Native workers in its casino, and paid Tribal members shares of casino profits, had to allow workers to unionize.

NLRB documents say about 221 of the Soaring Eagle's approximately 3,000 employees are Tribal members; about 65 of those Tribal members are in management positions. The Saginaw Chippewas have long paid its members per-capita payments based on casino profits.

The Michigan union vote comes in the wake of a vote over the weekend at the Native-owned Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn., owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. There, dealers voted overwhelmingly to ask the United Auto Workers union to represent them.

Published reports say other unions, including the Operating Engineers and the United Food and Commercial Workers union also are seeking to represent other workers.

But that Tribe is expected to launch a court battle based on the sovereignty issue, to block the union effort. The Saginaw Chippewas have given no indication of how they might respond to a union vote.


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