One labor leader reaffirms his support for Eastern Pequot tribal recognition. Makes sense- these Pequots choose to work with the union, unlike the Mashantuckets and the Mohegans, who combat any attempt to organize their casino workers.
The head of a union representing a quarter of a million hospitality and casino workers has reassured the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of his group’s continuing support of the tribe’s quest for federal acknowledgment.John Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE’s Hospitality Industries, said recently that the tribe has been doubly victimized, first, by a legal process that requires the tribe to establish “what is already fact” – their identity as the oldest tribe in the state – and, second, by being unfairly “bundled up” with the anti-casino and anti-sovereignty opposition of wealthy residents and politicians fighting the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation in Kent.“I think what’s been done to this tribe is a disgrace. What we’re got to do now is find ways to backup the tribe in its legitimate long overdue quest to be federally recognized so the tribe can move forward,” Wilhelm said at a press conference in June at the tribe’s office. Wilhelm promised to help in the state Capitol of Hartford and in Washington D.C.Last month, the Department of the Interior Board of Indian Appeals vacated the Bureau of Indian Affairs’s June 2002 and January 2004 decisions to grant federal acknowledgement to the Eastern Pequots and the Schaghticokes. The reversal came after Connecticut State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal- a vehement opponent of the two tribes’ quest for federal recognition- appealed the BIA decisions. The matter now returns to the BIA for further proceedings.The Eastern Pequot tribe has 1,000-members and a 200-plus acre reservation in Southeastern Connecticut. The Schaghitocke are a 300-member tribe with a 400-acre reservation Kent, which is located in the Northwest corner of the state. In an agreement signed last year, the Eastern Pequots promised to remain neutral if future employees wanted to unionize a casino the tribe hopes to build in Southeastern Connecticut. The casino would create an estimated 5,000 permanent jobs.That’s a groundbreaking arrangement, because neither the nearby Mashuntucket Pequots nor the Mohegan Tribal Nation, who own the two largest gaming casinos in the country, have allowed unions to form among their 20,000 workers. Eastern Pequot Chairwoman Marcia Flowers said the union has kept its promise of support since its first contact with the tribe around five years ago.“We told them we didn’t have a timeline. They said they would be with us all the way and (they) have been there,” Flowers said.The Southeastern part of the state where the Eastern Pequots have a 200-plus acre reservation has been hard hit by defense industry cutbacks. Many of the tribe’s 1,000 members are unemployed or under employed.Flowers said she had initially opposed unions during her career as a registered nurse, but changed her mind over time and ended up being shop steward for the union at the last hospital where she worked. “I never regretted helping bring the union to the site. I learned the need for workers to have a voice in job conditions,” Flowers said.Calling the tribe “progressive” in its approach, Wilhelm predicted great benefits would result from an Eastern Pequot casino. “This tribe when it establishes the right to move forward – and it will – will make an important contribution to the progress of this part of Connecticut, for the state and entire country,” Wilhelm said.Opposition to the Schaghticokes by elected officials and wealthy residents has rubbed off on the Eastern Pequots, Wilhelm said.“Unfortunately, the tribe is a drive-by victim of the concerns of people in Fairfield County and Litchfield County. The two (tribes) should not be related. They have nothing to do with each other, nothing to do with the historical record. I think the wealthy sections of Connecticut should deal with their concerns without jeopardizing the Eastern Pequots’ future,” Wilhelm said.