SugarHouse Casino contracted with the anti-union firm Kulture, beginning in 2010, in an effort to dissuade workers from organizing, according to documents filed by the firm and casino owners with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Kulture has “met with employees to discuss union card-signing activity,” helped run a “new-hire orientation,” and “presented informational meetings to company employees relative to the process of unionization,” the disclosures, relating to work performed through 2013, state.
The casino has employed the firm to fight union-organizing activity by Unite Here Local 54, which represents workers in textiles, hotels, restaurants and casinos.
But unlike other anti-union firms, Kulture is not run by buttoned-down lawyers, but is instead the brainchild of right-wing activist Peter List.
List publishes under the pseudonym Labor Union Report on his own website, and on the popular right-wing blog RedState.com, where he makes arguments that are far to the right of what one normally encounters in Philly politics: List contends that unions are part of a communist-aligned “organized war to destroy America,” that people in the White House seem to be “hoping that … someone somewhere will die” because of the sequestration, and that 47 percent of Americans “believe that they belong to the government.”
List’s avatar has also advised readers to “abandon California” and “let the socialist hordes have the state. To those parasites who believe that entitlements, high taxes, strangling labor laws, environmental regulations, unending illegal immigration and tax-the-rich schemes will somehow lead them into the promised land of prosperity, give them California.”
SugarHouse declined to discuss precisely what it has paid Kulture to do.
“We occasionally use consultants on various matters,” says spokesperson Leigh Whitaker. “We have nothing further to add.”
But High Penn Oversight, a company connected to SugarHouse ownership, has paid Kulture at least $429,964 since 2011.
List likewise did not respond to requests for an interview. But in a 2004 Fortune profile, he warned a reporter against publicly revealing his whereabouts. “Don’t even write what state I’m in,” he said. “I don’t need the Teamsters picketing out front.”
That may be bluster. Three years later, he signed a letter to Bloomberg Businessweek from New Jersey, where public documents show his business is based.
List, in a rare media interview, told Fortune his life story, explaining that he is a disaffected product of the labor movement. He worked at an AT&T factory represented by the Communications Workers of America, becoming chief shop steward. But then, everything changed. His job got outsourced to Mexico, so he went to college. He then became extremely interested in Ayn Rand, the novelist revered as an iconic philosopher on the libertarian right.
List has also been active in a right-wing strategy group called Groundswell that is planning a self-described “30 front war seeking to fundamentally transform the nation” toward conservative ends, according to Mother Jones magazine.
Candace Chewning, 31, who has worked as a server at SugarHouse’s Refinery restaurant for about a year, says she was shown a strongly anti-union video during her new-employee orientation.
The video, entitled “Little Card, Big Trouble,” re-enacts scenes from a fictional organizing drive featuring a scarere-mongering, money-hungry union organizer who manipulates hapless and confused workers.
“Signing a union-authorization card can be like signing a blank check,” says the narrator. “You won’t know what the real cost will be until it’s too late.”
After the screening, management opened the floor for comments, Chewning said.
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable in that situation saying, ‘Well I’m for a union, actually.’ I’m sitting in a room with three managers standing there. They just showed me this video that was very biased against unions,” she said.
List told Fortune that he was not a union buster but an “educator” and “communication specialist,” and that his job was to instruct management in how to stop a union without violating federal law. SugarHouse’s majority owner is Chicago billionaire and major Democratic fundraiser Neil Bluhm, who owns casinos in Pittsburgh and Des Plaines, Ill., where Unite Here is also organizing workers.
“We’re dismayed [that] such a prominent Democrat as Neil Bluhm would slap Philadelphia in the face by bringing in an outfit headed by an Obama-basher like this,” says Unite Here spokesperson Jon Scolnik.
Nothing, it seems, unites people like class conflict. SugarHouse Casino promised to create a lot of jobs when it defeated spirited local opposition and opened in 2010. Now, workers, management and a mysterious right-wing blogger are having a fight over what kind of jobs those will be.
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