USA Today reports that the United Auto Workers (who are dominating the headlines this week with their strike and settlement with General Motors) filed formal petition papers with the National Labor Relations Board this morning to form a union of approximately 3000 dealers at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
Conventional wisdom is that unions do not file for petitions for elections until and unless they get a wide majority of employees to sign cards to force a vote (even though the threshold is a mere 30%). Union officials, according to the article, confirmed that they have such a "supermajority".
Of course, whether those employees will ultimately vote for the union during a closed-ballot election remains unknown. Certainly, the casino — as with other employers who may not believe a union is in the best interests of its employees — will likely use the time before the election to try to convince its employees to vote against unionization.
Because Foxwoods is the largest casino in the world (an amazing concept when you think about it), and because casino workers at tribal casinos are largely non-unionized, this case may have tremendous symbolism going forward. (Indeed, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal recognized this earlier today.)
Unions, in general, have suffered drops in their ranks, while tribal casinos have been going through unparalleled growth. In fact, this union organization drive is likely to be one of the largest that Connecticut has seen in decades.
For employers in Connecticut, the case is a simple reminder that unions still have tremendous influence and drive in certain industries. They may be down, but they are certainly not "out". Well-run unions (and there certainly are those out there) should not be underestimated.
Unions have always thrived in situations where (rightly or wrongly) employees are perceived as being mistreated or not heard. (It should also be noted that unions have also peacefully co-existed with plenty of other well-run companies too.) Because the tribal casinos in Connecticut have been perceived as being run without much government oversight, the situation was ripe for unions to attempt to enter them.
Expect to hear about this case for many months to come. Will this be a stinging defeat for unions or the start of something much larger at the casinos? Its honestly to early to tell. But there is one thing that you can bet on — its going to be an epic battle.