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Panel Rejects Study of Casino Benefits

Academic office says UCLA-backed project lacked proper approval. The findings have been used in drive to unionize one tribe's workers.

August 24, 2003|Louis Sahagun | Times Staff Writer

An academic oversight panel has concluded that a UCLA-sponsored research study of health-care benefits at the Agua Caliente tribe's casinos in Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs had been conducted without proper approval.

The panel concluded that researchers had violated the university's assurances to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that they would get their procedures approved in advance by the UCLA Institutional Review Board.

The study has been a centerpiece of efforts by the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union to organize workers at two casinos operated by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.

The union says the casino workers deserve better wages, benefits and job security. Tribal authorities say the casino workers are treated generously.

The study contends that nearly half of the children of the people who work the floor of the casinos are enrolled in state Medi-Cal or Healthy Families programs. It also contends that the tribe saves about $1 million a year by offering family insurance plans that many of its lower-income employees said they cannot afford.

Instead, the casino urges them to enroll in government insurance programs, according to the study.

The UCLA Office for Protection of Research Subjects announced Wednesday that, because researchers had not submitted their procedures to the university's review board, it had no choice but to prohibit researchers from disseminating any of the data. The office added that its action was not a comment on the quality of the data.

"UCLA made a promise to the federal government that it would not conduct any research without pre-approval of the review board," said Carole Goldberg, director of UCLA's joint degree program in law and American Indian studies. "That promise was sidestepped."

"As a result, there was no university check on whether the study was partisan," she said, "or whether casino workers' rights would be protected, or whether the tribal government gave its permission for the research."

Although UCLA will no longer share the study's data, the results appear on the union's Web site, and a union spokesman said Wednesday that the union had no intention of removing the data from the site.

"We stand by the results," said hotel and restaurant labor organizer Jack Gribbon, adding that the data had been "collected in an empirical manner along strict statistical standards."

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