Betting on Graton

Newest casino targeting Bay Area residents promises to share the wealth with workers and people of color

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Placido Lopez, a dealer at Graton and a member of the Graton Rancheria tribe, awaits customers on opening day.
Yael Chanoff

news@sfbg.com

The route to Wine Country was chock-full of gamblers on Nov. 5. They came in cars and limos. And they came on buses, just like hundreds of San Franciscans do every evening, many of them older Asian and Latino immigrants hoping to win big — or at least enjoy a diversion and a few free drinks.

But this day was a little different. It was the grand opening of Graton Resort & Casino, which is closer to San Francisco than the other casinos, both in distance and in its pro-labor progressive values.

Normally, Northern California tribes and even Harrah's in Reno pay private bus companies to bring Bay Area customers to their doors. Graton hasn't contracted these services yet, but the buses came anyway.

"Graton's not paying us," said Rocio Medrano, coordinator at Kenny Express, which planned to send three buses from Mission and 15th streets — where buses to various casinos line up every evening — to the opening. "But we had to go. Everyone was so excited."

FADA Tours, which leaves from Kearny and Sacramento streets, sent six buses, every seat sold out in advance. Xin Jing Service dispatched three buses from downtown Oakland. Walter Wooden, a driver at Xin Jing, gave the same reason for the not-so-chartered bus service as Medrano: "The people want to go."

Graton's counting on it. California's newest casino has steep profit projections, based largely on its proximity to the Bay Area. "Winning Just Got Closer," Graton's homepage screams. Next to the purple slogan, a map shows directions from San Francisco to the casino's Rohnert Park address.

Odds are, most of the estimated 10,000 people who are swarming Graton in its opening days didn't take home much winnings. But for a 1,300-person Native American tribe, and an Oakland-based labor union, winning really just got closer.

 

RARE UNION CASINOS

"Graton is very important," said Marty Bennett, research and policy analyst at UNITE HERE Local 2850. "Now that it's open, our organizing drive will begin soon."

The 2,000-member local represents food service, hotel, and gaming workers, mostly in the East Bay. In a recent campaign, it organized a strike of 180 food service workers at Oakland International Airport. Its only current North Bay location is the Petaluma Sheraton, but Graton is poised to become its newest shop.

The likely unionization of Graton stems from an agreement signed in 2003 by Local 2850 and the tribal chairman who made Graton happen, Greg Sarris. The agreement guarantees card check neutrality, the union's preferred way of organizing.

The other path to unionization is a secret ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). But these elections are generally announced months before their dates, and notoriously offer a window of time for management to harass and intimidate workers.

The difference between card check and secret ballots is "night and day," according to Wei-Ling Huber, president of Local 2850.

"It's not even close. In a secret ballot election that's run by the NLRB, about 50 percent of all organizing drives include termination of organizers," Huber said.

If Graton workers vote to unionize with a card check, it could grow Local 2850's 2,000-person membership by more than 50 percent. Huber said that about 1,200 of Graton's 2,200 workers have jobs that would be represented by UNITE HERE, including bartenders, servers, and cleaning staff.

"It's incredibly exciting," Huber said. "The office is definitely abuzz."

So is the Las Vegas office of Station Casinos. Members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria own the casino, but Station has the contract to manage it. And it's a lucrative property. Graton is projected to bring in $300 to $400 million in its first year.

Comments

Posted by Guest on Nov. 05, 2013 @ 5:48 pm

The Graton casino is opposed by 68% of Sonoma County residents. Stop Graton Casino is currently in court suing Jerry Brown for giving this casino a gambling Compact in violation of state law. Our position is that because sovereignty over the casino site was never legally transferred to the federal government as required by existing law, the land is still governed by state law, and casino-style gambling is illegal on state-governed land. We are asking the court to enforce existing law. Courts can and do shut down tribal casinos, even after they have opened. This happened as recently as August 2013, when the Keetowah casino in Oklahoma was shut down after being open for close to 20 years. You can learn more at our website, www.stopgratoncasino.com or follow us on Facebook.

Posted by Guest Stop Graton Casino on Nov. 07, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

Sick of people trying to tell others where they can go and what they can do.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 07, 2013 @ 2:00 pm

This is a federal and state issue which the NIMBYs of Sonoma have no control over - much to their anger. Haven't native people been through enough without the privileged people of Wine Country trying to snatch subsistence out of their mouths?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

You have drunk the casino kool-aid, my friend! Your comments about having no control shows the public's ignorance on this issue. If you choose to educate yourself, you can read the legal Complaint on www.stopgratoncasino.com and see the arguments. The lawsuit against Jerry Brown that only seeks to enforce existing, established state law, inclduing case law, is viable.

As a resident of Sonoma County, I can assure you that this project is immensely unpopular. We're not NIMBY's. This is the first urban casino in California. It is a non-conforming project that was built with no permits or inspections, and not even a shop steward on site during construction.

Family and friends of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Jerry Brown made money off this project.

How well was it built, and how much does Graton's Greg Sarris care about his employees? Well, we know they cheaped out on the ventilation system in violation of their state gaming Compact. They were suppose to install a state of the art system, but everyone who goes there complains about the smoke. Read Yelp! and the casino's Facebook reviews if you don't believe me.

Or read this letter (link below) to the Editor of the Press Democrat from former public health officer Dr. George Flores. He actually warns female employees who are "pregnant or of childbearing age" to seek employment elsewhere, and says that people with heart or breathing problems and children should stay away for the Graton casino. How can they allow their employees to work in an environment that Dr. Flores clearly states is a health hazard? http://pressdemocrat.com/article/20131129/opinion/131129496

Posted by Mari WIlson on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 10:40 am

'... California's newest casino has STEEP PROFIT projections, based largely on its proximity to the Bay Area. "Winning Just Got Closer," ... '

Zero sum game.

Steep casino profits means steep losses for others gambling, so the slogan "Winning Just Got Closer" actually means "Losing Just Got Closer"

Posted by Guest on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

Stop attempting to nanny everyone from cradle to grave.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Nov. 08, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

come heroin is illegal?

Gambling is a bane to humanity on par with heroin abuse.

I remember driving through Lake Tahoe in the wee hours of the morning and caught site of a basement floor gambling parlor with rows and rows of one-armed bandits.

It was like I had found myself peering into the window of an abattior. Those people were in awful shape. I'd much rather have seen a bunch of junkies, shoeless and nodding off; at least they would have looked peaceful.

F this "enlightened, progressive, gambling" BS.

Posted by lillipublicans on Nov. 12, 2013 @ 12:07 pm

but most of us are fine with gambling, and it's a total non-issue in many countries.

Prohibition (of alcohol) didn't work out well either, while Nevada seems to be doing OK with both gambling and prostitution.

I'm a Republican but I certainly have no desire to ban people on sinning if that is what they want to do.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 12, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

SFBG is so busy falling all over itself praising Greg Sarris, it missed the biggest story about him: he's not a California Native American. The ancestor he claims was Native of Pomo and Miwok descent was really Black, and her family was not from Marin and Sonoma county, it was from the East Coast. You can read all about what most Native Americans already know at http://sarrisancestryreport.com

Posted by CalNativeTruth on Nov. 30, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

You have drunk the casino kool-aid, my friend! Your comments about having no control shows the public's ignorance on this issue. If you choose to educate yourself, you can read the legal Complaint on www.stopgratoncasino.com and see the arguments. The lawsuit against Jerry Brown that only seeks to enforce existing, established state law, inclduing case law, is viable.

As a resident of Sonoma County, I can assure you that this project is immensely unpopular. We're not NIMBY's. This is the first urban casino in California. It is a non-conforming project that was built with no permits or inspections, and not even a shop steward on site during construction.

Family and friends of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein and Jerry Brown made money off this project.

How well was it built, and how much does Graton's Greg Sarris care about his employees? Well, we know they cheaped out on the ventilation system in violation of their state gaming Compact. They were suppose to install a state of the art system, but everyone who goes there complains about the smoke. Read Yelp! and the casino's Facebook reviews if you don't believe me.

Or read this letter (link below) to the Editor of the Press Democrat from former public health officer Dr. George Flores. He actually warns female employees who are "pregnant or of childbearing age" to seek employment elsewhere, and says that people with heart or breathing problems and children should stay away for the Graton casino. How can they allow their employees to work in an environment that Dr. Flores clearly states is a health hazard? http://pressdemocrat.com/article/20131129/opinion/131129496

Posted by Mari WIlson on Dec. 05, 2013 @ 10:41 am

Ain't going to happen Marty Bennett. Good pay and great benefits. I am a member of Unite Here 2850 from the Sheraton. You, Wei-lIng Huber and the rest are disgusting people who only want our money for your immigration reform lobbying activities. Yes they give money to your NBL Cooalition. Talk about conflict of interest.

Don't forget to mention that Locai 2850 is under federal investigation based on charges I filed with the NLRB. I now work for Graton. Stay away.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2013 @ 9:15 am

Mr. Sarris,

You have created a good place to work and stamped your name and the tribes name on it.
Why promote a union? Do you think the employees you call "team members" need protection from you? Makes no sense. You pay us good and provide excellent benefits. Get out of bed with Marty Bennett and We-Ling Huber

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2013 @ 9:37 am

Not going to happen Marty and Wei-Ling. You have underestimated reality. I am a member of the Local 2850 from the Sheraton. I now work for Graton. Great pay and benefits. We do not need you. Furthermore you are so excited because you stand to more than double your immigration reform political action find. Card check?

I am way ahead of you. That is a dirty trick that prevent a real vote by smart people.

Stay away. Don't forget to mention the federal cherges file against you with the National Labor Relations Board.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2013 @ 9:22 am

What is wrong with a vote conducted by a neutral entity instead of a card check which means no real vote. ....notoriously offer a window of time for management to harass and intimidate workers..... Wow you must think that people are stupid. This is not the 1940's when "workers" were mistreated. This is 2013 where information is very easy to find and people can make informed intelligent decisions. Card check neutrality allows the union operatives to go lie as they pick and choose who they want to talk to, trick into signing the card pretending it is "an opportunity to join signature". In fact it is a secret vote that the union uses by abusing federal law. Google card check neutrality to see the truth and injustice. Unite Here Local 2850, go to hell! Stay out of our paycheck with your $100 initiation fees and daily withdrawal from our pockets!

If we want to donate money to immigration reform issues we can do that without you doing it for us. You are a Political Action Committee not a union. You offer no pension, no benefits - nothing. Yes I am a member transplanted from the Sheraton as well. Screw you.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 21, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

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