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High court case underscores deals between labor, casinos

High court case underscores deals between labor, casinos

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A decision on a Supreme Court case regarding neutrality agreements won’t be known for months, but two Maryland employment lawyers said they believe management will do what it takes to keep the peace with organized labor — especially when it comes to a proposed casino in Prince George’s County.

Oral arguments were heard Wednesday on one such agreement between a Florida union and a casino operator. The agreement, sometimes called a peace agreement, was struck down by a federal appeals court in Florida.

Patrick Pilachowski and J. Michael McGuire, management-side attorneys at Shawe & Rosenthal LLP in Baltimore, said the Florida agreement is similar to hundreds of others between labor unions and companies around the country — including one between a coalition of unions and MGM Resorts International, which wants to build and operate a casino at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

McGuire said that such agreements can provide a benefit to both the union and management.

“The benefit to the union is that the employer gives up its right to campaign against the union that is trying to organize employees,” McGuire said.

Labor groups also get a streamlined process for unionizing employees, compared to having the National Labor Relations Board come in to conduct secret ballot elections.

Businesses are able to avoid the time and expense of defending themselves against union campaigns meant to publicly discredit corporate reputations. They also get some certainty in the collective bargaining process by being able to work out a framework agreement in advance, McGuire said.

These types of agreements have been frequently upheld by federal courts including the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Maryland. But the Florida-based 11th Circuit found the agreements are banned by federal labor laws, and the Supreme Court stepped in to resolve the split. (See related story, page 12A.) Neither Pilachowski nor McGuire is involved in the Supreme Court case.

The justices heard oral arguments Wednesday in the case, Unite Here Local 355 v. Mulhall, which was brought by an employee of Mardi Gras Gaming, a casino and dog track operator.

Martin Mulhall brought suit alleging that Mardi Gras and the union violated the bribery provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act when the track operator agreed to let the union organize employees in return for spending $100,000 in support of a ballot initiative to expand slot machine gaming in Florida.

McGuire, of Shawe & Rosenthal, said the court will consider if the money spent on the referendum and the agreement are “a thing of value and if that is the kind of bribe contemplated by the statute.”

Exactly how a Supreme Court decision would affect the agreement between MGM Resorts International and the Gaming Employment Opportunities Coalition for National Harbor, a coalition of labor unions, is unclear.

Last month, that coalition — made up of Unite Here Local 25 (which represents hotel workers), Washington Building Trades Council, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 639, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 99 and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 22 ¬— announced it would support MGM Resorts International’s plan for an $925 million casino at National Harbor.

The Washington Building Trades Council was one of the leading organizations that was part of Maryland Workers for National Harbor. The group, formerly known as Building Trades for National Harbor, spent $2.7 million in 2012 on lobbying for legislation creating a new casino in Prince George’s County, according to the Maryland State Ethics Commission.

Sam Epps, spokesman for Unite Here Local 25, on Wednesday acknowledged the existence of a neutrality agreement between the Gaming Employment Opportunities Coalition and MGM Resorts International. He declined to comment on the agreement or the pending Supreme Court case.

Gordon Absher, vice president of public affairs for MGM Resorts International, also acknowledged the existence of what was referred to as a “peace agreement.” He declined to comment on the Supreme Court case, saying it was pending litigation.

“While we have no association to the case before the Court and therefore can offer no comment, MGM Resorts International has a long history of working successfully with local unions where we operate. We expect to continue that strong partnership in Maryland.” Absher said.

McGuire said that while the federal government would not likely review hundreds of older agreements, the timeliness of the National Harbor agreement could attract some attention if the Supreme Court favors the 11th Circuit’s interpretation instead of the 4th Circuit’s.

Still, Pilachowski said he believes the parties involved would be guided primarily by their desire to open the casino at National Harbor, should it be approved by state regulators.

“I would bet they’ll want to get the casino making money as soon as possible,” Pilachowski said. “They’ll do what it takes to have labor peace and get the doors open as fast as they can.”

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