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4 unions fighting to represent new casino workers

A battle is brewing among several labor unions seeking the right to represent the thousands of new employees who will soon be working table games at Maryland casinos.

The competing interests have hamstrung the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions, which has been forced to take a back seat in negotiations.

“I can’t really pick a side,” President Ernie Grecco said in a recent interview. “The best thing I can do, personally, is to stay out of it.”

Grecco said at least four labor unions want to sign blackjack dealers and the like once they’re hired to work in Maryland casinos because of their relatively high level of income. A job operating table games at a casino can pay more than $70,000 a year, according to several current and potential casino operators in Maryland.

There is no union dedicated to representing casino employees, but other labor groups have created gambling divisions to capitalize on the casino arms race taking place throughout parts of the country, particularly in the mid-Atlantic, where Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have embraced casino revenue as a way to fund their operating budgets.

That has created something of a turf war among unions competing for new members. In Maryland, organizing efforts are focused on two future casinos: Rocky Gap Lodge & Golf Resort in Allegany County and Horseshoe Baltimore, which is expected to be built on Russell Street by a group led by Caesars Entertainment Corp.

A spokeswoman for the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Commission said the state’s gambling regulator was not aware of the union issue.

One group has already laid claim to some casino workers in Maryland. The Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Unions, affiliated with the Seafarers International Union, organized some 400 workers at The Cordish Cos.’ Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall last summer, and also represents employees at Penn National Gaming Inc.’s Hollywood Casino Perryville.

A Maryland Live spokeswoman did not respond to an email requesting comment. Karen Bailey, a spokeswoman for Wyomissing, Pa.-based Penn National, which also owns Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County, said unions already in place at those facilities would likely represent dealers.

“Our employees are already represented by SEATU at Perryville and [United Food & Commercial Workers International Union] at Rosecroft, and anticipate continuing those relationships,” Bailey said. The gambling company may bid to build a casino at Rosecroft.

A spokesman for the Seafarers declined to comment. Other union locals — including the United Autoworkers and UFCW — did not respond to multiple phone calls and emails requesting comment.

Dealers are being hired for the first time in Maryland thanks to voters’ approval of Question 7, which legalized table games such as blackjack and poker at the state’s three existing casinos and three more that could be built in Baltimore, Allegany County and Prince George’s County.