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Casino union fight spills into presidential campaign

24 May 2007

CALIFORNIA -- As reported by the L.A. Times: "Labor's fight to organize Indian casino workers in California spilled into the presidential campaign Wednesday when a Native American leader accused a union of trying to derail a Democratic forum envisioned for the Morongo Indian Reservation this summer.

"The event's organizer said the union had pressured candidates to skip the debate because the tribe-owned casinos were strongly opposed to unionization. A union officer denied the accusation.

"Only two presidential candidates — New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel — have agreed to take part in the 'Prez on the Rez' event planned for Aug. 23 at the Morongo casino-resort near Banning.

"Kalyn Free of the Indigenous Democratic Network, which is sponsoring the debate, said candidates' failure to attend could determine who Native Americans supported and how much the deep-pocket tribes spent in the campaign.

"...In proposing a forum at Morongo, Free stepped into the middle of a years-long fight over efforts to organize casino workers. It comes as Morongo and four other Southern California tribes seek legislative approval to more than double the size of their casinos, an effort stalled in part because of labor opposition.

"Free said the top candidates had not responded because of pressure by a union, Unite Here, which is trying to organize casino workers at Morongo and elsewhere. The union denies seeking a boycott..."

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