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The union that represents workers at an East Bay Indian casino is reaching out to residents of Windsor in an attempt to win a protracted labor dispute.

The reason for appealing to Windsor -- about 60 miles and a couple of counties away -- may not be obvious. But the tribe that owns the San Pablo Casino has plans to build a large, controversial housing project for its members on land on Windsor's periphery.

The union includes about 220 employees at the casino owned by the Santa Rosa-based Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, or roughly half the workforce.

They have been working without a contract for three years, unable to reach an agreement on wages, health coverage and other issues with the San Pablo Lytton casino.

The union, Oakland-based United Here Local 2850, filed charges more than a year ago with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the casino owners are refusing to meet and bargain, and are denying union representatives access to the premises.

On Thursday, the union's case was bolstered when the NLRB found cause for the complaint to proceed and ordered a hearing for Oct. 29 with an administrative law judge.

In the meantime, the union is trying another tactic to pressure the 270-member tribe: Sending mailers to Windsor residents alleging some casino workers were fired unjustly.

A number of tribal members live in Sonoma County, said Jessica Medina, a union organizer, and the tribe maintains an office near the airport north of Santa Rosa.

She said their neighbors should know "the tribe has forgotten about the people who made them all this money."

But Larry Stidham, general counsel for the tribe, said "we think we are providing fair and reasonable benefits and wages," based on a survey of other casinos.

The Lytton tribe for the past 10 years has steadily acquired land in west Windsor and has applied to have 120 acres put into federal trust to develop a housing and cultural center.

The plans have frustrated Windsor and Sonoma County officials who say the 147 homes in the plan create much higher density than would be allowed on the rural property if the tribe were subject to local land use and zoning controls.

The tribe continues to add to its holdings and has bought an additional 140 acres.

The numerous purchases have helped fuel suspicions that the tribe may be pursuing a second casino. But tribal spokesmen have steadfastly denied any such intent. And legal experts say the federal law essentially prevents the tribe from building a casino in Windsor.

How much impact the union's campaign in Windsor will have is uncertain.

"Windsor doesn't have a lot of authority over what happens at the cardroom, or how they develop the land near us," said Mayor Debora Fudge. "I can certainly understand everybody trying to get as much input to the process as they can in the hopes it would make a difference."

Registered voters in Windsor recently began receiving colorful postcards from the union with pictures of former San Pablo casino workers with their children.

The workers pictured claim that they were dismissed unfairly. In one instance, one woman said she was fired from her casino job after nine years because management wanted her to return from maternity leave faster.

In another case a former casino worker, Nirmani Kalaki, said he was fired because he took a short time off from work for his father's funeral.

"The Tribe's members are good people. When they were here they took care of us. But after we made them rich, they moved to Windsor and forgot us," stated the mailer signed by Kalaki.

Union President Wei-Ling Huber said the mailings are intended to gain sympathy and support. "We think the story of the casino workers is so powerful," she said. "The more we can get the support of the broader community, the more it forces the tribe to really listen."

Windsor Councilman Steve Allen said residents may have a hard time with what he characterized as a "nebulous" flier, and connecting the casino with what happens in Windsor.

"There seemed to be no point to the flier other than (to say) 'these guys aren't very nice,' " he said.

The union estimates the casino grosses more than $182 million annually, but pays workers little more than minimum wage, with food servers and janitors making $8 an hour.

The union said it wants to bring their employees up to scale with Cache Creek Casino and Golden Gate Fields, or closer to $12.50 an hour.

They also represent cashiers and bingo machine technicians.

Stidham, the Lytton attorney, declined to comment on the cases of the workers who were fired, saying they were personnel issues.

But he said the casino provides health and dental benefits to workers and has worked hard not to let employees go during the downturn in the economy.

"They have a right to do these things," he said of the union mailers. "Whether they're truthful or not, or effective, I guess we'll leave up to the residents of Windsor."

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.