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Published: Friday, 5/24/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Toledo casino workers easily agree to unionize

UAW, USW to jointly represent 800 workers

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The gaming industry is widely unionized and labor unions made organizing employees at Ohio’s four new casinos a priority. Unions have been certified in Cleveland and Columbus as well as Toledo. The gaming industry is widely unionized and labor unions made organizing employees at Ohio’s four new casinos a priority. Unions have been certified in Cleveland and Columbus as well as Toledo.
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Workers at Hollywood Casino Toledo have voted to unionize and could begin negotiating their first contract within the next month.

About 800 casino employees in Toledo will be represented by a joint council of the United Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers, said Ken Lortz, the Ohio region director for the United Auto Workers.

“We’ve elected a bargaining committee of the workers there at the facility, and we’re hopeful to be getting to the bargaining table and commence negotiations here within the next 30 days,” he said.

The gaming industry is widely unionized, and labor unions made organizing employees at Ohio’s four new casinos a priority. They’ve been successful: In addition to Toledo, unions have been certified at the casinos in Cleveland and Columbus. Efforts to organize at the Cincinnati casino, which opened in March, are just getting under way.

Mr. Lortz said there was “very strong support” for the union from workers at the Toledo casino. A vote tally wasn’t available, but Mr. Lortz said the third-party outfit that certified the signature cards reported an overwhelming majority favored the union.

Forming a new bargaining unit requires the approval of a majority of workers. That can be certified in one of two ways, said Joseph Slater, a University of Toledo law professor who specializes in labor law.

Employers can voluntarily recognize signed cards collected by a union, or they can insist that the National Labor Relations Board holds an election to certify the results.

In the case of Hollywood Casino Toledo, parent company National Gaming Inc.Penn voluntarily recognized the union.

Hollywood Casino Toledo's parent company, Penn National Gaming Inc., voluntarily recognized the new union. Hollywood Casino Toledo's parent company, Penn National Gaming Inc., voluntarily recognized the new union.
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Mr. Slater said that’s not unusual.

“In industries where unionization is more common, voluntary recognition takes place more frequently,” he said. “The reason for that, in the casino industry especially, is that there’s not a lot of worries about a nonunion competitor paying lower, nonunion wages moving next door.”

Penn National said it has a strong track record of partnering with unions, with spokesman Eric Schippers pointing out the UAW backed the 2009 initiative that opened the door to casino gambling in Ohio.

Jennifer Spencer, vice president of human resources at Hollywood Casino Toledo, also said the relationship between the company and the unions in Toledo has been positive.

“We look forward to continuing to work [with] them as we begin collective bargaining this summer,” she said.

Mr. Lortz said the UAW and USW will together negotiate one contract covering all bargaining unit employees, from food service workers to card dealers. Once the contract is in place, the two unions will decide how to divide up the different classifications.

The UAW represents about 16,000 gaming employees nationally, including workers in Atlantic City and at all three Detroit casinos.

“The UAW is a very diverse union, as is the Steelworkers,” Mr. Lortz said. “We represent at St. Vincent Hospital in Toledo, we represent in the food industry and gaming industry. It all comes down to workplace fairness for workers and justice in the workplace. Regardless of what your line of work is, the issues are the same.”

Mr. Schippers said 13 of Penn National’s 19 casinos are unionized. He said there’s very little difference between union and nonunion wages and benefits.

Last year, Penn National said its full-time employees in Toledo were paid an average of $40,000 per year including wages, tips, and benefits.

Maryland based gaming analyst James Karmel said unions are common in the casino industry, though dealers aren’t always included. In Atlantic City, for example, there’s only recently been a movement to unionize dealers, while service workers have long been unionized. He said the representation has benefited them.

“It’s made a pretty big difference in the lives of the Atlantic City employees who are in the unions.”

Neither Penn National nor the UAW gave any time-frame for how long negotiations might take. Mr. Slater, at UT, said the amount of time spent toward getting a first contract in place can vary greatly by industry, especially if the employer tries to slow the process.

In situations where there is voluntary recognition of the union, and when negotiations are taking place in a highly unionized industry that has some level of standardization it can go much more quickly, typically taking six months to a year at most, Mr. Slater said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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