Press-Democrat: Graton casino workers vote to join union

Employees with the Graton Resort & Casino have voted to unionize, a move that adds the Rohnert Park tribal gaming destination to the widening trend of union representation of casino workers nationwide.

The vote by Graton casino employees sets in motion collective bargaining for a new contract with the casino, which opened in November. Union officials said they will look to protect benefits currently offered to casino employees, including 100 percent employer paid health care to all employees who work more than 20 hours a week.

“There is no preset list of demands,” said Sarah Norr, a researcher with Unite Here Local 2850, which will represent 600 casino janitors, cooks, waiters and gaming workers. “Definitely solidifying existing benefits is important to our workers.”

More than 70 percent of affected employees decided to join the union in an election that began last month. The other 30 percent did not participate in the process. Union organizers announced the results of the election Tuesday.

The move comes as union membership is declining nationwide but growing among casino workers. Unite Here represents 100,000 workers at gambling sites in the United States and Canada. About half of casino workers are unionized in California and nationally, according to Unite Here.

Under an agreement between Unite Here and the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, which owns the casino, workers were allowed to choose whether to become union members without interference from the employer. Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, who pressed for the deal to allow unionization, said he was pleased workers at the casino, one of Sonoma County’s largest service employers, would have their benefits contractually ensured.

“I’m so happy that people will have good jobs with us for as long as we’re around,” he said. “The selling point is not that people get better benefits, but that they get to keep them.”

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