Union Support…For All?

Walking into today’s casino revenue hearing in the State House, the first thing you had to notice was the mass of union members packed into Gardner Auditorium. All clad in red t-shirts proclaiming that Casinos + Unions meant jobs, they were rearing and ready to go from the start.

Basically these people wanted to cheer. For anything.

The Local 26 hotel workers union have a tremendous amount to gain from the opening of three resort casinos in the state, and when Mayor Tom Menino, a casino supporter, entered the room, they greeted him with a loud standing ovation. Gov. Deval Patrick got an even bigger round of applause when he stepped into the auditorium.

Patrick was the hearing’s first speaker (here’s what he said, no major revelations), and when he got up to leave the table, he was once again greeted by cheers from the gallery, prompting Committee Chairman and Hearing organizer State Rep David Flynn to call out one man for his boisterous behavior.

“Any further outbursts from you, sir, and you will be removed from the hall,”Flynn said.

But then, the Local 26ers became remarkably well-behaved. Now, that doesn’t mean they stopped clapping—it just means they clapped for everybody.

State Senator Susan Tucker was the first casino opponent to speak, and she delivered a blistering, nearly 10-minute attack on the evils of slot machines and the regressiveness of casinos. After calling for like-minded casino opponents to rise up, she declared that, “Gambling cannot deliver on its promises.”

And when she concluded, she was greeted by loud applause from the union members. This, I assumed, was just a simple case of hearing fatigue. It had been dragging on for a while now and Tucker was so passionate that the crowd got swept up in it, and couldn’t help applauding.

But then State Senator Robert O’Leary, also a casino skeptic, followed Tucker, hitting on most of the same themes. Winding up his short speech (about five minutes), he said relatively blandly, “I would argue against recomending this legislation. Thank you very much.” And then there it was again, applause from the Union. Huh?

Now, in a sense, it’s easy to understand how the Local 26ers fell into the trap of just mindlessly clapping for everyone. The hearing offered little new information—though there was plenty of rehashing of the governor’s original proposal—and overall it was about as exciting as watching a painting of growing grass dry. It’s easy to see how they could have spaced out. But still, come on. Twice?

Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one confused by this. Later on Committee Co-Chair and casino skeptic State Senator Mark Montigny expressed his appreciation for the universal applause.

“We normally are a little bit stricter on the applause and boos, but particularly the union workers have been so polite and applauded both sides of the issue that we have nothing to critique…Sometimes these hearings are known for getting a bit contentious, so thank you all very much. You owe yourself a round of applause, how’s that?”

Of course, everybody applauded.