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CORRECTED: Arbitration award seals Foxwoods beverage workers’ first union contract

By Brian Hallenbeck

Publication: The Day

Published December 14. 2013 4:00AM   Updated January 20. 2014 3:14PM

Mashantucket - An arbitration award brought an end to contract negotiations between Foxwoods Resort Casino and some 350 beverage workers affiliated with Local 371of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The terms of the award, issued Dec. 8, became effective on that date, nearly 2½ years after Foxwoods’ beverage servers, bartenders, lounge hosts and bar porters last voted to join the union.

Local 371 does not represent employees at MGM Grand at Foxwoods. Editor's note: this corrects an earlier version of this article.

A draft of the collective bargaining agreement indicates workers with at least a year of service will receive four wage increases over the life of the contract. An initial increase of 55 cents an hour will be followed by increases of 30 cents an hour on April 1, 2014, April 1, 2015 and April 1, 2016.

The contract will extend to March 1, 2017.

Though it acknowledged the workers have received virtually no wage increase in three years, the arbitration panel rejected a union proposal calling for four annual raises of 75 cents an hour. It noted, among other things, "the economic circumstances faced by the employer, given the changing economic climate in gaming."

Most of the employees primarily rely on tips as compensation.

The panel resolved 33 issues that had led to the impasse in negotiations, in each case choosing between the "last best offer" presented by each side.

The panel rejected the union's request that Foxwoods be required to contribute to the UFCW National Pension Fund, agreeing with management "that creation of a new, defined benefit in this first contract is not appropriate."

The beverage workers are eligible to participate in the same 401(k) retirement plan available to Foxwoods' nonunion employees.

One of the thornier issues involved the shoes employees can wear. The union had argued that female employees, particularly beverage servers, had suffered healthwise for years from wearing high-heeled shoes, a requirement management agreed to abandon.

Workers, however, continued to oppose management's ban on "clogs," an argument they lost.

"The employer argues shoes are a critical part of establishing a brand of elegance and clogs do not meet that standard," the panel wrote, siding with management. In all, the panel sided with the union 18 times and with management 15 times.

Contract negotiations began soon after beverage workers voted for a third time to unionize in May 2011. The vote, conducted under Mashantucket Pequot tribal law, affirmed the results of a July 2010 vote administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The Mashantuckets maintained that federal labor law does not apply to enterprises operating on their reservation.

Beverage workers had rejected union affiliation in a 2009 vote.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com">b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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