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Court won't rule on union-casino agreement

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court won't decide the legality of an agreement between a union and a Florida casino in which the business helped the union organize in return for help with a ballot initiative on gambling.

The justices on Tuesday dismissed an appeal from UNITE HERE Local 355 without deciding whether its agreement with Hollywood Greyhound Track, Inc., also known as Mardi Gras Gaming, was valid.

The union agreed to help the company win a gambling ballot initiative, and agreed not to picket, boycott, or strike. Mardi Gras officials agreed to give the union employee addresses, access to the facility and not to ask for a secret union ballot election.

An employee, Martin Mulhall, then sued, saying that the agreement violated national labor laws, which say companies cannot give unions that want to represent employees something of value. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, saying the company's agreement to help the union was a "thing of value" made illegal by the Labor Management Relations Act. Other federal appeals courts, however, have ruled differently.

The Supreme Court's decision not to hear the appeal leaves the 11th Circuit ruling in place.

Justice Stephen Breyer, along with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said they disagreed with the dismissal. They say the lower court ruling should be vacated and the court should have additional briefings.

But Breyer, in his dissent, said justices found out that the union-casino contract expired before the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made its decision, which would render the case moot. He says that the person who sued over the contract, Martin Mulhall, also may not have had to right to sue over the issue.

But "given the importance of the question presented to the collective-bargaining process, further briefing, rather than dismissal, is the better course of action," Breyer said.

The court, in a separate case, also unanimously reconfirmed that federal courts can hear issues that are being litigated at the same time in state courts except in exceptional cases. This ruling came in a fight between Sprint Communications and Windstream Iowa Communications over telephone fees.

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