Graton casino workers voting on union

  • Graton Resort & Casino employees Larry Smith, left, and Joe Reeves turn in their cards in favor of forming a union to volunteer Kia Mitchell, at the casino in Rohnert Park on Tuesday, June 17, 2014.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Larry Smith gave a cheer as he signed his union card Tuesday in a conference room at the Graton Resort and Casino.

Smith, who has worked as a porter in the maintenance department since the casino opened just outside of Rohnert Park in November, said unionizing will result in labor practices that are more equitable.

"We want to speak with one voice," he said. "A lot of people are scared to take sick days. We don't want to feel scared."

About 600 gambling, maintenance and food and beverage workers at the new casino, one of Sonoma County's largest service employers, are deciding this week whether to join a union.

Representatives from Unite Here, which represents 100,000 workers at gambling sites in the U.S. and Canada, explained the benefits of the union to off-duty employees Tuesday.

"We help to protect their jobs," said Wei-Ling Huber, president of Unite Here Local 2850 of Oakland. "You want to have transparency, fair rules, security for the long term. When given the choice, people overwhelmingly choose to be represented."

The organizing drive is the result of a deal struck between the union and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, which owns the casino. Tribal chairman Greg Sarris, who is pro-labor, made the right to unionize a part of the gaming compact he signed with the state and the management agreement with Las Vegas-based Station Casinos.

"I'm very happy to see that the agreement I made is now being fulfilled," Sarris said. "Unions are there to ensure my dream of a more equitable society."

Station Casinos referred questions about the organizing drive to the tribe.

Union reps said that casinos often intimidate employees who try to organize, or discourage them from unionizing. Organizers sometimes have to meet with casino workers in secret, they said.

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