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updated: 11/28/2013 5:32 AM

Union alleges unfair labor practices at Des Plaines casino

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  • Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is facing complaints of unfair labor practices by the UNITE HERE Local 1 union. Casino management denies the claim and says most of their workers do not want to join a union.

       Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is facing complaints of unfair labor practices by the UNITE HERE Local 1 union. Casino management denies the claim and says most of their workers do not want to join a union.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


A service employees union has filed unfair labor practice complaints against Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, claiming casino management is trying to block workers from unionizing.

UNITE HERE Local 1, which represents some 15,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago area, is accusing Rivers operator Midwest Gaming and Entertainment LLC of "responding to workers' efforts to organize with an aggressive anti-union campaign that includes threats, surveillance, and other intimidation," according to a news release.

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Rivers Casino spokesman Dennis Culloton said the filing of charges with the NLRB "is a common tactic for UNITE HERE to generate media attention and awareness."

"We take great pride in our team and respect the rights of our team members to choose," Culloton said in a statement. "So far, the overwhelming majority of our team members have consistently chosen to remain independent. That is their choice and their right."

The filing of 31 unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board last week comes after Local 1 officials say they began organizing workers late last month in response to "unsafe working conditions, chronic understaffing, and lack of job security."

"Workers are reporting that management has threatened the loss of benefits and are throwing away union fliers," said Carly Karmel, a spokeswoman for Local 1. "Workers are wanting to make the decision. They want to have a fair process whether or not to join a union."

Karmel said UNITE HERE is seeking to represent cocktail servers, kitchen staff, other food and beverage workers and janitors. It's unclear exactly how many of Rivers' 1,400 employees the union is seeking to unionize.

One employee, Rosaura Villanueva, a dishwasher, says she's been trying to organize support for a union, but her bosses haven't been so receptive. She said one of them told her to "shut up."

"When I talk, they try to stop (me)," said Villanueva, 31, of Chicago. "(They say) 'You have no right to talk about your rights with anybody else.' They hear what you're trying to say and they get in-between, telling you it's not good."

An effort by Teamsters Local 727 to unionize the casino's parking and valet attendants last year was defeated in a 13-5 vote of employees.

UNITE HERE also is trying to unionize two Pennsylvania casinos run by the same Chicago real estate investment firm, Walton Street Capital, and its managing principal, Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, who has a stake in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

The union filed similar unfair labor practice complaints against the Pennsylvania casinos: SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia and Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh. A settlement was reached last month to resolve 29 charges against the Pittsburgh casino.

Rivers Casino in Des Plaines is the state's most lucrative casino, raking in roughly $352 million in adjusted gross receipts from Jan. 1 through October 31.

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