Indiana’s Ameristar Casino and a group of the casino’s patrons have sued a local union, claiming the labor group has gone too far in its dispute with the casino by personally targeting the customers with a campaign of fliers, phone calls and other messages to pressure them to join the union’s boycott of the casino.
On May 19, Ameristar Casino East Chicago filed suit in Chicago federal court against Chicago-based labor union Unite Here Local 1. The casino was joined in the action by four Cook County residents identified in the complaint as people “described by Unite Here Local 1 as a regular customer of Ameristar.”
According to the complaint, Unite Here, which represents about 200 Ameristar Casino employees, launched a boycott campaign against the casino in March 2015 “in response to a primary labor dispute” between the casino and the union. The complaint said the efforts to date have included “demonstrations near Ameristar’s entrance, distribution of leaflets to Ameristar’s customers in Ameristar’s parking garage and distribution of boycott posters to local businesses.”
The lawsuit said Ameristar has also “received multiple complaints that Unite Here is soliciting Ameristar’s customers … to boycott Ameristar by letters and telephone calls to their homes and personal cell phones,” including at least one instance in which a customer claimed to have been called on his cell phone at about 11 p.m. by “someone asking him to stop gaming at Ameristar.”
The lawsuit alleged Unite Here since March 2016 has escalated the campaign, allegedly “distributing leaflets to the private residences of customers of Ameristar … and to the private residences of the neighbors” of those casino customers.
“The leaflets identify the customer by name, label them as regulars, and ask the neighbors to join (the union’s) boycott of Ameristar,” the complaint said. “Customers of Ameristar have requested that defendant cease distributing said leaflets, cease sending letters to their homes and cease calling them on their home or cell phones. Defendant (Unite Here) has refused to do so.”
The lawsuit said the leaflets allegedly distributed by the union have “diminished” the reputation of the people named in the campaign materials, causing neighbors and family members of those targeted to believe or inquire if those named in the leaflets have “a gambling problem.”
The complaint said representatives of the union have also entered shops and restaurants owned by the Ameristar customers to distribute the leaflets to their customers and employees, and in some instances, refused to leave the business or stop soliciting customers until ordered to do so by local police.
“The distribution of leaflets to neighbors of Ameristar customers and to neighbors of customers’ family members was not an effort to communicate (the union’s) primary dispute with Ameristar but rather was intended to harass and embarrass the customers and their families,” the lawsuit said. “Such intrusion would be offensive to a reasonable person.”
The lawsuit alleged the behavior of the union should be considered unfair labor practices under federal law and invasion of privacy under Illinois state law.
The casino asked the court to order the union to cease its leafletting campaign targeting Ameristar customers, and to pay the casino at least $200,000 in damages. The four individual plaintiffs requested at least $50,000 each, plus attorney fees.
Ameristar is represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Schiff Hardin, of Chicago.
A March 2016 release from Unite Here said its represented workers have been without a contract since 2012.
The release noted the National Labor Relations Board had filed a complaint against the East Chicago casino, which is owned by Pinnacle Entertainment, for a number of alleged federal labor law violations, including allegedly firing a bartender after she “contacted customers about the boycott she and her coworkers have called on Ameristar” and “surveilling and photographing workers participating in rallies outside the casino and using those photos to create the impression those workers were under surveillance,” as well as more than 20 other allegations.
That case is scheduled for a hearing before the NLRB on June 27 in Chicago.