"A good union contract is better than any government anti-poverty program. What we seek for casino workers are real living wages, justice, dignity and a voice at work for casino workers." Maggie Bird, President, Midwest Casino Workers Organizing Council
Red Lake Casino, Hotel, and Restaurant Employees’ Union Organizing Committee to the Mankato Minnesota Labor Action Conference
Sponsored by: Minnesota Labor Action
Alan Maki has been involved in the struggles for workers’ rights, for peace and against racism since he was a teenager in
One thing I can tell you about Alan is that he isn’t afraid of the police, the FBI, or company thugs. He can’t be intimidated. He can’t be bought off. Casino managements here in
Alan has been involved in many labor struggles over the years.
Alan and I have a mutual friend in
Our Committee agreed to give Alan the opportunity to speak here this morning over breakfast because we felt this issue involving organizing workers employed by casinos on Tribal Lands needed an airing. There is much that hasn’t been brought out concerning casinos and labor in
I should warn you that Alan is very opinionated. He isn’t shy about expressing his opinions.
With that, allow me to introduce Alan and his three guests………
Thank you for the kind introduction Penny.
Sisters and Brothers, its not often I hear people say nice things about me these days. Penny, it is especially nice that you have something good to say about me with all the heated discussions we have had over the years. All joking aside, you have put together a nice conference here in
We appreciate the opportunity to speak here today at your Labor Action Conference here in Mankato on behalf of our organizing committee, the Red Lake Casino, Hotel, and Restaurant Employees’ Union Organizing Committee and the hundreds of our sisters and brothers employed by Red Lake Gaming Enterprises who have signed cards indicating that they want to be represented by our organizing committee.
I have only lived in Minnesota a little over a year now, but my grandfather and grandmother are buried in a cemetery overlooking the pits on the Iron Range where they fought to better the lives for working people from the day they got off the boat from Finland until the day they died; First in the pits, then in the woods among loggers. For years my grandfather was on the Board of Directors of the Gilbert Co-op and he helped bring the Steelworkers’
Red Lake Gaming Enterprises refuses to recognize our right to organize and our right to collectively negotiate a contract. Red Lake Gaming Enterprises has hired the largest union busting outfit in the world--- USIS to try to beat back our union organizing campaign. This is a company that has engaged in beatings, assassinations, and every dirty trick imaginable in fighting against workers’ rights to organize all over the globe. Two members of our organizing committee were beaten up in their own homes in
In June I was involved in an automobile collision of a dubious nature in which my car was totaled and my ribs were broken. This accident was never thoroughly investigated by the police even though many people are convinced I was the target of a contract “hit.”
I should point out we kind of pushed our way into your conference because we thought a rank-and-file conference of labor activists like this would be a good place to get our message out. Everything had been all set up, the various panels, etc. There was no place for us. I pushed and prodded Penny; actually I think she likes to see me in the position of beggar. Penny suggested we make a presentation during breakfast this morning. We really do appreciate this opportunity. Let me also say, while we maybe had to beg our way into this conference, you won’t see us going to the management of Red Lake Gaming Enterprises begging hat in hand for anything. We are fighting for our rights and your rights; we are fighting for the rights of every workingman and workingwoman to be in a union and to negotiate a contract with living wages, the appropriate benefits, and to be treated with dignity in the workplace.
Every time an employee of Red Lake Gaming Enterprises slows down the pace of his or her job or engages in an action in the workplace in order to help bring these corrupt bastards to their knees and to the bargaining table is a blow for justice for each and every one of us. It’s a blow for justice in behalf of every worker in
We have a Republican governor who boasts that he has the support of organized labor because his two brothers are union members and elected union officials. Well, god damn it, if union membership is good enough for the Governor’s brothers, union membership is good for every casino worker in the State of
We aren’t only interested in issues in our immediate workplace. If fact, I have been accused of “using” this organizing campaign for political purposes. Well, when the
Whether its Pawlenty, Bush, or
I also want to make kind of an observation because it sort of tells us working people are ready to struggle. We aren’t interested in “watching” as this Governor destroys everything progressive in
There is talk about what can be done to stop this goddamn war. There is talk about fighting back against Pawlenty and his budget cuts… even though he has the support of a segment of organized labor… well, come on--- don’t boo me already, shit you just got done applauding before I even spoke… come on I just started talking, Pawlenty does have the support of a segment of organized labor no matter how small; haven’t you heard him, his two brothers are union members and they support him… come on lets be honest, two people are two people, right? I want to talk about some serious things. Well, before I continue, a friend of mine puts it this way, “We have had ‘Pawlenty of Bush.” I like that formulation.
The three sisters with me today are from the Red Lake Nation and are employed by Red Lake Gaming Enterprises. They will each speak to you about wages and working conditions in the Seven Clans Casinos and their own experiences. One works at Seven Clans Casino-Thief River Falls, one at
I know a few of you have already been talking to these sisters and they gave you their names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mails, etc. so we can kind of communicate and network. I would just like to caution you that we would certainly appreciate it if names aren’t spread around. Two others and myself have already been fired. We have a rather large organizing committee of 47 people, the majority of whom are Red Lakers. People need their jobs. As little as the pay is they can’t afford to lose their jobs. I’m sure everyone in this room understands the limited nature of our great democracy when it comes to working people standing up for their rights. Even if you have the “protection” and I put that word “protection” in quotes, of the NLRB, you know how difficult it is for a worker fired for union organizing to get their job back… and we don’t have even this “protection.” We work for mobsters they don’t believe in democracy or living wages. Violence is their stock in trade.
At this time, allow me to point out something that is very important about our struggle to gain union recognition and our rights as workers in these casinos and all the other casinos in the State of
People aren’t stupid. They start to ask: Why should I pay dues to unions who left us to fight on our own. This is the main reason we have had to undertake the kind of independent organizing drive that is now underway.
Someone is going to have to talk some sense into these union officials who are content to “watch” as casino workers struggle for their rights because it makes achieving labor unity very difficult.
The Minnesota Department of Labor will not lift one finger to help casino workers with any problem.
There is a myth about these casinos on Tribal Lands. Often people think members of First Nation communities receive some kind of per capita check monthly or yearly from casino profits. In our studies we have only found this to be true in two communities in
You know, it never amazes me at the excuses managements can come up with to explain why their employees don’t need unions. I mean really, have you ever met anyone in management that couldn’t explain to you in a very educated fashion why workers employed by that particular company don’t need a union? Wal-mart’s management is a master of this deceit, but I won’t get going on Wal-mart. The management of Red Lake Gaming Enterprises is no different than any other management when it comes to this. When we boil it all down and get rid of all the fancy terms and educated sounding rhetoric, it all boils down to the fact that casino workers, like any other workers, have the right to organize unions. I want to stress this about rights. It is the right of workers to organize unions to protect themselves. That is the bottom line. It’s a right we won’t give up. If we give up this right, who will be next to give up this right?
Last night the four of us visited the memorial to the 38
This mass execution of thirty eight brave human beings who dared to struggle for their rights had nothing to do with “perishing” but everything to do with the murderous, rapacious genocide carried out by the U.S. military in the pursuit of conquest, in the stealing of this land and its resources, from the original peoples that had lived here for centuries… the Native American People. You know, before I got fired from my job as a blackjack dealer from Seven Clans Casino-Warroad because of my activities organizing and fighting for those rights articulated in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for better pay, employer paid vacations, employer paid health insurance--- we were sitting around the table in the break room watching Bush’s “Shock and Awe” on TV and discussing the war in Iraq. There were a couple guys who were all gung ho for the war… they were cheering with every bomb dropped. After awhile I asked them… What do you think life would be like in this country today had George Armstrong Custer had these kinds of weapons to use against his “enemies?” All of a sudden there was complete and total silence. No one said another word the rest of the time we were in that break room. You can ask this sister here, she was there. We had some pretty interesting discussions in that break room, didn’t we? You know, I don’t like to say this, but unions in our country have done a piss poor job educating working people. The president of the
As rank-and-file activists we should be looking for every conceivable way to educate our fellow workers. Peace is for workers; war is for the bosses who profit. John Sweeney had an opportunity to educate working people about the nature of this war. He didn’t do that. He capitulated to the warmongers. Who are these warmongers? Aren’t they the same fucking ones out to bust our unions?
Why am I speaking about the murder of thirty-eight
Because, sisters and brothers, it’s all part of what this government and this rotten system of business and profits before people is all about. It’s about why we have to struggle for union recognition and a first contract if we want a better life for our families and ourselves. It’s about the struggle of working people who create the wealth versus those who steal from us what we produce. It’s about the kind of fear government and employers strike in people in order to prevent them from organizing and fighting for what is right and just. It’s about “there can be no peace without justice.” Thirty-eight Dakotas were hung by their necks--- imagine it--- to see thirty-eight human beings all hanging from their necks here in Mankato, all strung up on a common gallows and executed at one time. Some accounts of this mass execution tell of the “marvel” of the giant gallows that was constructed solely for this mass execution… while other accounts tell of the thousands of onlookers and gawkers who gathered in this city. Much in the same way people sat and watched the “shock and awe” on their TV’s. Had there been TV for the hanging, no doubt there would have been those who sat and watched, then cheered as the bodies fell in unison dangling from the hangman’s noose--- the same way those guys cheered on as every bomb was dropped on Iraq--- totally oblivious to the death and destruction. What was the crime of these brave
We have the barbaric execution of Nat Turner and his group of the slaves who led one of the first rebellions against slavery (gees, anyone ever read about the ghastly, savage methods the slave owners used? Cutting off their heads, mutilating their bodies like the sickos you see in a horror movie), the Haymarket heroes- hung,
One of those was Gus Hall, born and raised in the little community of Cherry,
Their only crime was educating and organizing working people.
McCarthyism’s main purpose was to intimidate. Hubert Humphrey was the primary author of the Communist Control Act. Sisters and brothers, McCarthyism has left our labor movement with unfinished business for over 50 years.
It’s because of this unfinished business that we still don’t have Universal National Health Care. It’s because of this unfinished agenda that casino workers and other workers have to fight and struggle so hard for union recognition against such draconian labor laws in the world’s greatest democracy. You know, when I was working on a union organizing drive at Super Wal-mart down in Virginia Beach, Virginia there were all these guys retired from the military who boasted about what a great job they had done defending democracy. I listened to this night after night.
These same guys would tell me, “I’m not signing any union card. I don’t want to get fired.” Then one night we were sitting in the break room after 9/11, about 30 of us, and one guy says, “Hey union man, how come you aren’t wearing a ribbon? (Management passed out little red/white/blue ribbons for everyone to wear) I told him, “You know, you tell me how you defended democracy fighting in
The “historians” would like us to forget all of this. The historians would like for us not to see the common threads that tie these vicious acts of repression together. So, in light of all this, that is why I say the labor movement has done a piss poor job educating working people. The bosses don’t want working class youth to know the truth about how difficult the struggles have been for social progress. And there is a segment of our labor movement that doesn’t want working people to know the truth either. They watch as we struggle. It is these people who do not want labor to stand up for peace. It is these “watchers” who refuse to get involved in our struggle to organize casino workers. You know, it’s kind of ironic, but you have these so-called labor leaders who will sit by and “watch” as workers struggle for justice and then they end up with jobs in unions sitting on their asses playing solitaire and other games on the computers we buy for them when they should be using these computers educating workers. Organizing workers. Mobilizing workers. We pay them. We buy them computers. For what? To sit around playing solitaire? And I kid you not. I can’t tell you how many union offices I walked into trying to build support for this foreclosure thing we just got done fighting, and there sits a guy playing computer games and tells me, “I wish I could help you, I just don’t have time.” There is a reason working people in this country are confused.
With that said I have been in many, many union offices across this State that are bustling with activity. Organized labor is under assault like no other time in our country’s history. There is a growing fight-back. There is growing anger. There is a growing awareness that we need to deal with these 50 years of “unfinished business.” We are not just looking at “remnants” of McCarthyism. To view these 50 years of unfinished business simply as remnants of McCarthyism is shortsighted and not honest.
Today, sisters and brothers, we struggle for our rights. To stop the mobsters who really own these casinos from stealing from us the wealth we create. Casino management uses intimidation. Intimidation used in the same way and for the same purpose that 38
These casinos kind of present a complex problem--- unless we take the time to examine what is going on very closely its easy to get confused. But you know, isn’t that true of every problem in our society, in our communities or where we work? Isn’t this true of our world in general? It takes some sifting and sorting. So much is done by management and the media to confuse and distort the issues. They lie. They deceive. This is true of Bush and his war for oil and it’s true of how management tries to project these casinos as something akin to heaven for workers and a blessing to Native American communities. By the way, there is a reason not one single casino in this state will open its books. To open the books would prove that the mobsters are taking away more than what any of these communities receive out of gaming profits. Red Lake Gaming Enterprises and the elected members of the Red Lake Nation Government claim they cannot pay higher wages because they have to pay off such big debts on the Thief River Falls Property--- a Casino-Hotel-Water Park Complex. If this is true, why is it that the first thing the new Tribal Council started talking about was building a new Casino-Hotel Complex?! Why? Where will the money come from? Unpaid wages? Poverty wages!
You see, the present elected leaders of the Red Lake Nation and those who run Red Lake Gaming Enterprises make the claim that if workers get organized this is somehow a violation of the “sovereign rights of Indian People”, yes this it what Billy King, the Chairman of the Red Lake Nation told me when I met with him and Red Lake’s Administrator Roger Head who told me our organizing campaign was in “violation of Indian Law.” Well, what do you call paying people poverty wages and treating them like shit? You know when I heard them say this I asked them, “Since when is the issue of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘Indian Rights’ used as an excuse to pay people poverty wages and treat human beings like shit?” Their response was to kick me out of their office. Workers everyplace have the right to organize collectively to protect their interests… it doesn’t matter if it’s at General Motors or a casino. Billy King and Roger Head both said, “We will never recognize your union or any other union.” How many times over the years have we heard management say this?
It doesn’t make any difference who owns what… if its stockholders that own General Motors or organized crime bosses who really own these casinos. It wouldn’t make any difference if First Nation people really owned the casinos or if the State of
There is no way any Native American community can ever own their own casinos with this rigged setup. But, no matter, workers have the right to organize.
I was in the break room one night and I heard one of the slot techs start asking his supervisor, “How come we just bought back that machine we just put in for $12,000.00 when we gave it to them for scrap a few weeks ago?” The supervisor looked around to see who was listening, [you better believe he didn’t see me listening], never said a word, than took the tech around the corner near the door and he said--- very quietly--- to the tech, “If you want to keep your job and your health you don’t ask those kinds of questions around here, you got that?” If this weren’t intimidation, what would you call it? How would you like to be told something like that at work?
These casinos as they have been allowed to be built and licensed to be run on Tribal Lands by the State of Minnesota are every bit a part of the genocide against Native Americans as the deaths of the 38 Dakotas who “perished” on the gallows as thousands clapped and cheered. As the coins go in, the slot machines whirl… the mobsters count their money as Native Americans living in communities--- like
Visit one of the 3 casinos “owned” by the Red Lake Nation’s Red Lake Gaming Enterprises. Visit them any time of the day or night, any day of the week, and you will see how much money is taken in. All this money is being taken in. Does anyone know where all this money goes? Christ oh mighty, after thirteen years of taking in all this money in gaming, why is there one single person living in poverty on the Red Lake Nation? Think about that. Where does all this money go? Until the books are opened we will never know. According to
Sisters and brothers, we need your help to win this struggle. Our organizing campaign is a genuine rank-and-file struggle. We need you to help us get out word about what is going on. We need for you to ask people not to patronize any of the properties owned by Red Lake Gaming Enterprises. We need you to call on elected officials to tell them this scam has got to end. No more licensing of casinos in the State of
The time has come to open the books of these casino operations so the public can see what is going on and where all this money is going. If the State of
There is money to pay casino workers real living wages comparable to workers in any other industries whether its processing chickens and chicken eggs, a sugar beet processing plant, working in a paper mill, a taconite plant, a public employee, or a teacher.
You know, I went to a community dinner in Baudette a while back. I met a teacher there. We began to talk about things. We began talking about the weather, fishing, politics, and union. She told me teachers deserved more pay. I agreed. She asked me, “Why should a casino worker get paid as much as me?” This is a worker educating our children. She said she supported Pawlenty. This is an example of what kind of job we have before us as far as educating working people. She didn’t understand. She didn’t want to hear the facts. But she wanted a raise. All I can say is, “Good luck to teachers because you will eventually need the support of casino workers.”
What are the facts? I have given you many of the facts and what the issues involved are and some historical background. These sisters here will continue to provide you with the nitty-gritty.
In fact, casinos have higher rates of profit than most industries in this state. The time has come for justice for casino workers. Let me assure you, there will be no peace until we get justice.
Red Lake Gaming Enterprises has the option to get a license to operate another casino. There have been many rumors about where Red Lake Gaming Enterprises might place another casino. We intend to fight against this option unless Red Lake Gaming Enterprises recognizes our right to represent all hourly employees of Red Rake Gaming Enterprises and agrees to negotiate in good faith and then sign a collectively bargained contract. If the casino is built, we will organize workers there.
There is also the issue of scab labor building these casinos. I know a few of you here work in the building trades. Is this an issue of concern to you? These are multi-million dollar facilities. Who is building them? Who is maintaining them?
We have brought leaflets and other materials… help yourself… take what you need. I don’t want to discourage you from taking any of the materials but if you can help out with a contribution it would be appreciated. This is going to be a long drawn out struggle. You know what a campaign like this is costing. You know what it takes for me to go crisscrossing a state this size. The media isn’t going to publicize the issues involved. Hell, they make big money off casino adverting. Look at television, listen to the radio anyplace you go in this state, all you hear and see are casino ads. Sisters and brothers, you know what this kind of advertising costs. You know when someone spends this kind of money on advertising someone is making big money off this advertising. So much for media and the truth. More like the silence they can buy. I hope you will go back to your locals and see what can be done to help us. Some of your locals have already helped print some of the leaflets we have out here. And by the way, feel free to initiate activities on your own to help us. Be creative. Like I always tell the sisters and brothers, “Management appreciates your efforts.”
Let me touch on the issue of how these casinos are financed.
You know constructing and outfitting a casino involves millions and millions of dollars. Do you know that it is against the law to loan someone money if you don’t think they can pay you back? To believe someone will be able to pay back a loan requires some kind of collateral in return for the loan. What is the collateral being put up to insure these millions of dollars will be repaid? Think about this: a bank cannot take over the ownership and operation of a casino should the casino fall into bankruptcy because according to law only a Native American band can own or operate a casino on Tribal Lands in the State of
The hoodlums who own these slot machines parade through these casinos inspecting their investments wearing suits that cost as much as many of the employees make in a year!
The time has come to pay casino workers living wages.
Red Lake Gaming Enterprises owns a yacht. One of the
There are no receipts showing anyone ever pays to go out on it yet we have all these expenses.” I told him, “If you don’t know, how should I, but I can tell you this, ‘
You know before we started our organizing campaign people received paychecks weekly. When management got a whiff of our organizing campaign they started paying us every two weeks; to punish us. As a result, we had to set up three food banks because people had difficulty living from paycheck to paycheck. After they hired USIS, this union-busting outfit from
I will be happy to go anyplace in this state anytime to speak to people about our struggle for justice for casino workers. If any members of Red Lake Gaming Enterprises’ management would like to debate the issues, I’m up for that. But this isn’t the way of management. Management’s way is the way of hiring union busters, beating people up, threatening people, firing people. You know when you think about it, what could be a more vicious act of terrorism than threatening to fire or firing a worker from his or her job just for signing a union card? To take away the source of a working person’s means to survive over the issue of union membership… what does that say about the state of democracy in our places of employment, in our communities, in our country? When I hear George Bush and these politicians talk about democracy it makes me sick. Bush struts around the world with that fucking arrogant smirk on his face boasting about “our great free country.” I can’t even stand to look at the guy. He makes me sick.
You know, the Warroad Police department claims their hands are tied when it comes to doing anything to stop the pimps, drug pushers, money launderers, loan sharks, and illegal gambling rings operating out of the casinos because its “Tribal Lands.” However, we start passing out this leaflet and the Warroad Police come out and not only threaten to arrest us for distributing leaflets on public property across the street from the Seven Clans Casino-Warroad, but the Warroad Police Department tells us we can not pass out leaflets on any sidewalk in the City of Warroad! Imagine such undemocratic and Gestapo tactics in this day and age when there is such sensitivity surrounding democratic rights? And we ask the Mayor of Warroad, Bill Marvin (the Mayor is part of the famous Marvin Windows and Doors family, owners one of the largest non-union manufacturing plants in
What would the Warroad Police Department do if we called for electing a socialist oriented government like they have up north in
I am getting to the end here. We are looking towards organizing other casinos in
With that, I’d like to thank you for listening and I’ll just turn over the mic to the three sisters from
Ok, you want to have questions after each of us speak rather than all together. That’s ok with us.
Question: What has been the role of the Minnesota
Answer: They have been watching. That’s all I can tell you. You would have to direct any further questions to them.
Question: You seem to be saying Indians are not benefiting in any way from casinos?
Answer: I would not say Native Americans have not received any benefits from casino gaming. I would say two things:
1.) To the extent Native American communities benefit from gaming these benefits are incidental to the profits being reaped by organized crime, bankers, and other investors. As far as the Red Lake Nation, I would have to ask this question of the elected members of the Red Lake Nation and members of the community, to answer you: What have the benefits been?
2.) Whether or not there are any benefits have nothing to do with workers organizing. Casino workers have a right to belong to unions and participate in the collective bargaining process to advance their standard of living. Also, I would suggest that communities have a right to fight for their share of these gaming profits for housing, to develop other tribal businesses, for upgrading healthcare, for recreational facilities, road maintenance, and so forth. In no way am I saying casinos cannot benefit Native Americans. From what I have seen I can only say if this is to happen, drastic changes will have to take place as far as people gaining real control over the casino industry; and over their own communities. This has not happened yet. And, there are many negatives that go with the casino industry ranging from prostitution to drug dealing and all the problems associated with these things. Casinos are breeding grounds for these things. What can I say? It’s all part of life. Gaming and gambling are not the issues involved for us. We don’t look at this from the position of rightwing religious zealots.
People are going to gamble. That is life I guess. Of course, the way our organizing committee sees the solution to these kinds of problems is that there needs to be a very conscious and concerted effort to combat these negative things. We believe the best way to combat these things is to pay people living wages, use the proceeds from gaming for constructive purposes to create tribal owned businesses and to use the proceeds of gaming towards the elimination of poverty and to create healthy living environments in the communities.
Question: What are you asking us to do?
Answer: Get out the word that this organizing drive is taking place and help show your solidarity through printing leaflets and funding our campaign, which includes funding us traveling around the state to raise awareness of our organizing drive. Ask people not to patronize any properties owned by Red Lake Gaming Enterprises until our organizing committee is recognized as the sole bargaining agent, a contract is negotiated, and ratified. Red Lake Gaming Enterprises has had to increase their advertising expenditures dramatically in response to our organizing campaign. They have had to undertake expensive gimmicks to draw people in. In the long run they would be better off recognizing us and negotiating a contract that will put an end to poverty wages.
Question: What has been the response of the DFL to your attempt to organize casino workers up north?
Answer: The same response we have received from the Republicans.
Question: It’s hard for me to believe such a big loophole was left by our state legislature when it comes to protecting the rights of casino workers in the workplace. Do you have any proof that the
Answer: First, in
Maybe we should continue because I think many of these questions will be answered in the three presentations to come… you ain’t heard nothin’ yet.
We cannot publish the Statements from the three Red Lakers because of the extremely personal nature of their comments, which would expose their identity. We appreciated their participation in our conference.
The right to publish and distribute is granted by Minnesota Labor Action.