Big Labor Picks Big Casino Fight

Looks like wildly enthusiastic hotel workers and teachers won’t be alone in pressuring the legislature to accede to Gov. Deval Patrick’s casino proposal. Labor leaders from across the state – electricians, Teamsters, painters, pipefitters, teachers, and more – gathered in Dorchester today with Patrick’s chief of staff, Doug Rubin, and his labor secretary, Suzanne Bump, to plot one of the largest labor mobilizations of the decade. Patrick’s casino plan would be the beneficiary of this mobilization.

“We’re going to put on a full-court press that hasn’t been seen since the minimum wage, or beyond,” said the Mass AFL-CIO’s legislative director, Tim Sullivan. He then mused that this campaign might even eclipse the union’s minimum wage push of a couple years ago.

When it was suggested that labor faced long odds in the fight, owing to Speaker Sal DiMasi’s staunch opposition to the proposal, an exasperated teacher blurted out, “Well, who’s in charge? The governor of the speaker?”

“You don’t move the speaker,” assured one of the House’s staunchest pro-gaming and pro-labor members, a confident Marty Walsh. Big Labor plans to take a page from MassEquality’s playbook, enlisting its members statewide to call and pressure their local reps. The net effect will be a swell of pressure that garners votes, one by one, from the bottom up, not from leadership on down.

“You move the people under the speaker,” Walsh explained. “We’re going to pressure members to the point where they say, ‘We have to vote on this or my constituents are gonna kill me!'”

Walsh also argued that every union local in the state had to push for casinos because, “It’s important for the governor. It helps him get to that promise of 100,000 jobs. He needs that. We need the governor to be successful. We don’t need another Mitt Romney.”

He promised the unions that House members, “don’t want to vote against” Patrick’s casino bill, because if they don’t take Patrick’s magic pot of casino revenue, they fear having to raise taxes next year.

DiMasi has “only heard from the governor and a few key allies,” Bump added. “Wait until he hears from every member of the House!”

What’s in it for the union? They’re seeking assurances from Patrick’s people that casino construction projects will be guaranteed union projects, that the state will force the casinos to consent to wage floors and benefits guarantees, that casinos will be barred from doing business with service and supply firms on labor’s blacklist, and that casinos will allow the AFL-CIO to organize their thousands of new employees. A painter also suggested to Rubin that the Patrick administration begin stacking state oversight boards with union members. He heard no disagreement.

Patrick has complained loudly in recent months that his signature proposals are suffering from legislative inaction, but at least one labor organizer today saw great benefit in the legislature’s current inaction. It will wind up putting the casino debate in the middle of election season – a fact that the unions in the room will not hesitate to remind legislators about.

“It’s the speaker on one side, us on the other, and the legislators in the middle,” the organizer bellowed. “Our goal is to make them more afraid of us than they are of the speaker. We have to remind them that they’re up for reelection, and if they want to remain in the legislature, they’d better be with us. Not with the speaker.”