Lumiere Casino in St. Louis has provided the perfect example of why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. By last November 20th, almost eighty percent of the workers had signed cards saying they wanted a union. But because card check isn’t law yet, Lumiere had a solid three months to put off the election, which takes place today, the 27th. Knowing how much a union would empower the workers, the company has used every tool at its disposal to try to make its employees forgo their right to organize.
Or to fire them if they wouldn’t.
Earlier, the union organizers had put out a bulletin–with pictures–showing thirty of the employees on the union committee. At many companies, doing this offers a modicum of protection for the committee members because the company can’t then claim when it fires someone that it didn’t even realize he was a union guy. Lumiere refused to play by these rules: so far it has fired nine of the thirty. Another has been suspended and still another has had his last warning. And Lumiere’s hardball tactics have had an effect, of course. Some people have stopped attending the union organizers’ meetings.
One of the key tactics companies use to get rid of pro-union employees is to use points against them. Points are black marks on employee records; workers can get points for being late, being absent frequently, or being written up for not doing their jobs well. (Anything over ten points at Lumiere is grounds for dismissal.)
Take Gwendolyn, for example. She worked as a porter and had never had any points–never been late, never been absent, never been written up. But then one day she accumulated about a thousand invisible, unofficial points for “mouthing off”. What she did was to tell her co-workers that Phyllis, a Lumiere director, had said things about the union, at a meeting she conducted, that were untrue.
Not that Gwendolyn made a scene. No, she kept it quiet, just talking to people standing near her, but–get this!–she felt free to contradict what her boss had said. And Phyllis apparently “didn’t appreciate her attitude.” So Phyllis let her know that she had noticed by going up to her at the end of the meeting and asking Gwendolyn whether she, Phyllis, had said anything wrong about the unions. Gwendolyn played it cool and told her boss that she had a right to say what she wanted. But after that, Gwendolyn’s days at Lumiere were numbered, and she should have known she was in trouble when, at the next meeting, Phyllis asked for her last name.
Phyllis saw her chance when Gwendolyn was mopping a hallway at work a few days later and had to get into a closet that was maybe 3′ x 3′ to rinse out her mop. But two other porters, Kevin and Fidel, were doing something in there, and she had to wait. Phyllis picked up on the cameras that Gwendolyn was just standing around doing nothing, so she watched carefully, hoping for more of the same nothing. She got it too. All right! she thought, and headed straight for that floor. When she got there, she asked what they were doing. Kevin and Fidel started to explain, but Phyllis interrupted and told the guys that they were fine, that she wasn’t talking to them, she was talking to Gwendolyn. She told Gwendolyn that she would be reviewing what the cameras showed had been going on, and that review showed twenty minutes of Gwendolyn doing nothing.
That was all it took to get Gwendolyn canned. Gwendolyn took the issue to the Labor Board, a state agency that mediates disputes. But unfortunately, the board’s members, appointed by a Republican governor, sided with the company. But the hearing did make it obvious that Gwendolyn had been singled out, so Kevin and Fidel had to be fired as well. Lumiere had to cover its ass, right?
Lumiere Place also told workers that the union will cost them a couple thousand dollars every year. But union dues are actually $37 a month. $37 a month comes out to almost two thousand a year, doesn’t it? Oh wait, not really.
The union also reminded the other workers that the hiring ad Lumiere placed when it opened the casino said it would pay $11-$13 an hour, but that when people came in for the interview, it was actually offering $9. What’s more, the company told interviewees that after ninety days, they’d get a $1.25 raise. But Lumiere wrote performance reviews that said workers were only doing well enough to get a three percent raise.
These aren’t exactly hard times for the casinos. Statewide, they grew by two percent last year, and Lumiere made 86-million dollars in seven months. So the company had a choice to make: pay workers what they’re worth or throw some extra cash at the shareholders. Apparently, they chose the latter.
The guys who keep the parking garage clean live with the implications of this approach. Their office is a shack in the garage–no windows, no heat, just a couple of metal doors. And before this union discussion came up, the bosses just ignored them when they asked: Couldn’t we at least have a space heater for days when it’s 17 degrees out here? The shack was also unsafe, given that the company stored diesel fuel, gasoline, floor stripper, and other chemicals in there. Furthermore, the zamboni machine the workers used to clean the garage was pumping carbon monoxide into the shack. Of course, once the union negotiations started, management decided to give those guys permission to use the inside break rooms to warm up on cold days, even though they used to write employees up for spending time in there.
When one of the employees had the nerve to stand up at a meeting and correct his boss, his boss let him speak once, but when the employee stood to make another correction, his boss then said he wasn’t taking any questions or comments from those in the audience, and an aide crossed the room, pushed the worker on the shoulder and told him not to show such disrespect.
This is just one prime example of the union-busting tactics that happen across America all the time. We need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. People’s livelihoods are at stake.