Foxwoods President and CEO John O'Brien has said the casino's existing benefits package can match up against any that a union can get for local workers.
MASHANTUCKET - Foxwoods President and CEO John O'Brien has said the casino's existing benefits package can match up against any that a union can get for local workers.
The United Auto Workers is attempting to unionize 3,500 gaming employees at Foxwoods, which employees about 10,000 overall. The UAW has organized workers at several Atlantic City casinos this year, the latest at Caesars this month.
Union representation votes in Atlantic City are imminent. They include votes for slot workers at Caesars and casino dealers at the Tropicana last week, and cashiers at Caesars Saturday Marilyn Comrie 8/29/07 Sept. 1.
The UAW says it represents about 6,000 gaming workers in Detroit, Atlantic City and Newport, R.I.
"I told the (Foxwoods) employees, 'What's the rush? Let's see what they get in Atlantic City. If you like it, sign up,' " O'Brien said.
O'Brien and Steve Heise, Foxwoods' vice president for human resources, both admitted last week during a meeting with the Bulletin's Editorial Board that the casino's benefits package is not the same as the one implemented when the casino first opened. But Heise said insurance costs have increased dramatically in the 15 years since the casino opened and Foxwoods is paying more per employee today than when it opened.
Heise said Foxwoods pays 92 percent of the medical costs for employees - about $9,000 for each - compared to less than 80 percent paid at other casinos. That's about $90 million a year. He says the Tropicana in Atlantic City, where he previously worked, paid about 78 percent of medical insurance costs.
"We still have the best benefits package in the industry today," O'Brien said. "We're facing the same challenges everyone else is facing.... Our employees have a great benefits package. We're proud of that. But there are realities in the world we have to face."
Also, O'Brien said prescription coverage has decreased because of changes in the ability to purchase prescription drugs at the federal level. That has resulted in cost increases of 300 percent, he said. He said co-pays and costs are still less than others in the industry, however, and generic drugs are still free.
Bonnie Forman, a dealer at Foxwoods for more than six years and a union organizer, acknowledges that costs have gone up.
"We would just like to spend our money more wisely and get something more beneficial for our dollars," Forman said. "We need a better benefits package. Many issues could be fixed with little or no cost. We want a voice."
Just how Foxwoods benefits stack up in the industry was difficult to determine. Messages left with Wynn Las Vegas and Local 721 of the Transport Workers Union in Las Vegas were not returned. Wynn dealers voted to unionize under the TWU back in May.
The union also represents dealers in Las Vegas at the Tropicana and Stratosphere hotels. Messages left with hotel officials were not returned.
Gordon Absher, vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage, said he did not have enough data on Foxwoods benefits to compare to his own dealers' package.
He did say that a large Las Vegas casino likely was in a far different situation from a tribal casino, as there is more competition for the best workers.
MGM is involved in a joint venture with Foxwoods for a hotel and casino scheduled to open in Connecticut in 2008.
Keith Foley, a vice president at Moody's Investors Service in New York who follows the gaming industry, said he could not comment on other casinos' benefits.
"Tribal casinos tend not to be unionized," Foley said. "That helps their cost structure. What they give out (in union contracts) impacts on profitability. Are (tribal and commercial casinos) really different with respect to that issue? Both are businesses looking to maximize their profitability."
Representatives of Harrah's Casinos also did not return requests for comment.
Forman said dealers traditionally have been left out of past organizing efforts.
"We want to be seen as an asset and not an expense," she said.
"At the end of the day, I believe the employees will make the right call," O'Brien said.
Reach Michael Gannon of The Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin at firstname.lastname@example.org.