Cascade Locks casino complex to be union-built

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski has signed a renegotiated tribal-state compact with the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs to build a casino, hotel and convention center on off-reservation land in Cascade Locks, located 45 miles east of Portland on Interstate 84.

Prior to the deal, the Columbia-Pacific Building Trades Council inked a project labor agreement with general contractor Anderson Construction on the $135 million complex that will mean 1.7 million workhours for roughly 400 craftsmen and women.

“This is big for our unions,” said Wally Mehrens, executive secretary of the building trades council. “Multiply those 1.7 million hours by $40 an hour and you get a lot of wages and health care and new cars and used cars and a lot of money spent in the community.” 

In addition, tribal leaders agreed to pay all the costs associated with constructing a new interchange on I-84 leading to the complex. That cost is estimated at $20 million. The tribe will work with the Oregon Department of Transportation on highway improvements. It is unclear whether the interchange falls under the project labor agreement, Mehrens said.

The compact between the state and the tribe contains workers’ rights provisions that will allow for the more than 1,000 employees to join a union by voluntary “card-check recognition,” which means that if a simple majority of 50 percent plus one signs a card for union representation, contract negotiations would begin immediately without having to go through a full organizing campaign and election.

The tribe also agreed to binding arbitration in the event a collective bargaining agreement cannot be reached.

However, the compact requires a waiting period of eight months after the casino opens before workers can organize. Additionally, the tribe did not agree to remain neutral in the event workers do seek union representation.

“The ground rules for union recognition in the compact look good at first,” said Oregon AFL-CIO President Tim Nesbitt. “They include majority sign-up for recognition of a union and binding arbitration of all contract disputes. But that eight-month bar creates a union avoidance period for the employer. We are disappointed, to say the least.”

Jeff Richardson, financial secretary-treasurer of Portland-based UNITE-HERE Local 9, told the Northwest Labor Press that he was “very disappointed” that the governor agreed to those terms. But he said the union wants to work with the tribe to make the casino a success. “I think a labor partnership with the tribe is a good thing for both parties. We can be helpful as this process moves to the federal government for approval,” he said.

Richardson initially presented Kulongoski with a proposal the international union has used successfully with tribes nationwide. Richardson pointed out that governors in California — including Republicans Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger — all negotiated better terms for union recognition in compacts with California tribes that are thriving.

Rich McCracken, international counsel for UNITE/HERE, said of the eight-month bar in the compact with the Warm Springs Tribe, “It’s a poison-the-well-period, especially when there’s no neutrality required.”

The compact’s Tribal Labor Relations Ordinance specifies that if any union, union representative or labor organization seeks to invoke the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board, the Warms Springs Tribe can bar that organization from “utilizing the process and procedures” of the ordinance, i.e., card-check recognition and binding arbitration.

The ordinance also contains open-shop language for tribal members who choose not to pay union dues or fair share fees, as well as a clause prohibiting “strikes (including boycotts ... corporate campaigns) and lockouts.”

The compact guarantees that adequate employment and public accommodation standards will be put in place, including minimum wage, anti-discrimination, family medical leave, Americans With Disabilities Act, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance protections. 

The land-swap and compact were negotiated after citizens of Hood River complained loudly about a Warm Springs Tribe proposal to build a casino on environmentally-sensitive land just outside the city that qualifies for Indian gaming under federal law.

As a solution, the tribe proposed to instead build a gaming facility on industrial land in Cascade Locks. In exchange, the tribe agreed to give the state the 175 acres of land in Hood River, close its casino at Kah-Nee-Ta Lodge in Central Oregon, and share 17 percent of its gambling proceeds with the state (estimated to reach $200 million a year). Monies would be dedicated to environmental protection, economic development, higher education opportunities and charitable groups.

The 4,400-member Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation now must get federal approval for the site from Secretary of Interior Gale Norton.