More than a year after the Encore Boston Harbor hotel, casino and convention center officially opened for business on the banks of Massachusetts’s Mystic River, negotiations are finally underway toward a first contract that would cover dozens—and eventually hundreds— of maintenance workers at the region’s first-ever luxury resort.
But on the road toward eventually bringing those workers—from dispatchers to slot machine servicers—into the IBEW, “there have been a lot of twists and turns,” said Boston Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis.
The new resort, which opened in June 2019, was built with all-union labor, said Antonellis. The Encore’s owner, Wynn Resorts, invested $2.6 billion into the massive construction project that provided over 1 million worker hours for 500-plus Local 103 members working for 14 IBEW signatory contractors.
“As the Encore got closer and closer to opening, they started hiring their maintenance staff,” Antonellis said. That’s when Local 103 and other unions within the Massachusetts Building Trades began planning out drives to organize the resort’s workers.
“We went along with it, and workers started signing cards,” Antonellis said. “So, we went ahead and filed for recognition and got it from the Encore, but it was challenged by the Operating Engineers and we had to start all over.”
A month before the resort officially opened for business, the International Union of Operating Engineers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, charging that although the Encore had hired enough workers in enough job classifications to allow for a typical organizing drive to take place, the drive itself was premature because the resort had not yet fully and officially opened.
The NLRB sided with the IUOE that the Encore had moved too quickly. “So, it was back to the drawing board,” Antonellis said.
Despite the setback, “Local 103 kept things as positive as possible going forward,” said Second District International Representative Mike D’Amico, who played an advisory role during the organizing drive. “We had a lot of great conversations with Bobby [Local 103 President Robert Sheehan] who, along with Business Agent Rich Antonellis and his stewards, decided they were going to run a positive campaign.
“The message: This is what Local 103 and the IBEW can do for you,” D’Amico said. To that end, Sheehan and Antonellis built a special website for the drive to collect all of the information for the casino workers in one easily accessible place. “I served as a sounding board for them,” D’Amico said, “giving them advice about the website and keeping the district office up to date. It was a real team effort.”
The website explained how critical the timing of the campaign was, considering how badly COVID-19 had hurt workers in the commonwealth and around the world, even as Gov. Charlie Baker rolled out plans aimed at trying to get things back to as close to normal as possible.
“With businesses in Massachusetts reopening,” read a message from Antonellis on the organizing website, “we urge you to return to work with IBEW Local 103 at your side—a union that will fight for you, win for you, and protect your rights on the job.”
Antonellis also emphasized on the site the local’s readiness to go to bat for workers to set safety and hygiene standards to help defend them against the spread of the coronavirus, something that can be especially difficult to do in a busy casino resort.
“And as always, we are ready to negotiate for the best wages, benefits and retirement plan possible for you and your family,” he said.
Of course, COVID-19 also made the organizing drive a little different from a traditional campaign, from the digital authorization card on the website’s home page replacing traditional hand-signed cards to the representation election being conducted by mail-in balloting.
But the energy and positivity behind the renewed campaign effort paid off, Antonellis said: “We won overwhelmingly, and now we’re negotiating a first contract.” In fact, 95% voted in favor of being represented by Local 103.
The business manager is confident that a collective-bargaining agreement between the Encore and its maintenance workers soon will be negotiated, ratified and signed, allowing Local 103 to fully welcome more than 120 new men and women into its ranks.
The resort has remained largely open for the last few months, said Antonellis, “but like most resorts under COVID, it’s treading water.” Social distancing protocols in the casino mean many slot machines are powered down and a lot of gaming tables are temporarily closed off. With Massachusetts under Phase 3, Step 2 of its reopening plan as this article was prepared, occupancy at the resort and similar businesses has been limited to 50% of normal capacity.
Antonellis remains confident, though, that things will eventually turn around at the Encore. “Once things get busier, we’re looking forward to more hires there, and more IBEW members,” he said.