Casino study focus of investigation

Wage and benefits report authored by UCLA’s Institute of Industrial Relations

Officials at the University of California, Los Angeles, have launched an inquiry into whether its Institute for Industrial Relations violated university regulations in a study it funded on healthcare benefits at the Agua Caliente Casino.

Max Benavidez, senior counsel at the university, said the “Institutional Review Board is in the process of conducting an inquiry into the study. The results are expected sometime this month.”

The study, funded by the Institute of Industrial Relations, was released March 11 and is titled “Wages and Healthcare Benefits of Workers at Agua Caliente Casino.”

The university probe was launched after Carole Goldberg, a law professor at UCLA and director of a joint degree program in law and American Indian Studies, asked if proper procedures were followed.

Investigation: Goldberg said the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects, which reg- ulates research projects, launched the investigation.

“The Institute stands by the study,” said Neal Sacharow, communications director of the Institute. He would not address other questions.

The UCLA study has become the centerpiece of a public debate between the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, which is trying to organize casino workers.

Demonstrations: H.E.R.E. has staged a series of demonstrations and helped established three local advocacy groups that, among others things, have used the study to say that low wages have forced casino workers to use government health plans because they couldn’t afford the tribe’s insurance.

For its part, the tribe hired a Menlo Park-based think tank, Exponent, to analyze the UCLA report.

Exponent said it found “many of the findings of the UCLA study to be erroneous, unsubstantiated, or counterfactual.”

Also this week, one of the persons listed as an author of the study, David Fairris, economics professor at the University of California, Riverside, told the tribe in a letter that he never possessed the data on which the study was based but merely advised the principal author of the report.


In an interview, Fairris, a labor economist, said he had not been compensated for his role and “did not run the empirical data” but did recommend Eric Nilsson, a professor of economics at California State University at San Bernardino, to be the lead author of the report.

The other person identified on the study as an author is Angela Jamison, who is a graduate student in sociology at UCLA.

“She (Jamison) did an excellent job in seeing that the data was valid,” said Nilsson. “The data collection was done by excellent and professional standards.”

Nilsson has defended the study, saying “our numbers are correct.” He also said he” did not receive a penny” for his work on the study, which was limited to analyzing and writing the report on data collected by H.E.R.E.

Dana Wise, research analyst for H.E.R.E., said Friday “in our opinion, it’s an impeccable study … we believe that all the findings are accurate, and we have no doubt that all inquires will confirm this.”

Inquiry: On Friday, Nilsson said “I think the Agua Caliente Indians are the only ones who’d feel aggrieved by the study, so I imagine they’d be the force behind the UCLA inquiry.

“Regardless of what the (UCLA) board finds or doesn’t find, it does not call into question the study I co-authored.”

Barbara Gonzales-Lyons, vice chair of the Agua Caliente band, Friday said “this investigation comes as a complete surprise to us, but we are certainly glad that one is under way because we knew all along that this study was seriously flawed.”

Goldberg, the UCLA law professor, said she was concerned that the study did not follow the rigorous research requirements of the university.

“Research is a very demanding process,” she said, “and it must also be certified by the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects.”

Goldberg said she was concerned that the data used in the Agua Caliente survey “had been collected by someone outside the university.

“One has to question the sampling methods to make certain they are fully representative” of what is being studied.

A statement in the study says the “survey was performed with the oversight of the Institute of Industrial Relations at UCLA.” The Institute is part of a university system-wide organized research unit. It was founded in 1945.

Professor Fairris, who described his role as “largely consultative,” said he had not gathered or analyzed the data but did “react to the first cut” and make suggestions to Nilsson.

Challenge: In a press release issued Tuesday, H.E.R.E. challenged the tribe to a public debate on the healthcare issue. The tribe rejected the invitation.

In the release, the union listed one area of disagreement between the two parties — the cost for tribal employees to cover their children with insurance.

The union quoted Nilsson as saying the family insurance plan cost workers $2,880; it quoted Richard M. Milanovich, tribal chairman, as saying it cost $1,040, and it quoted the tribe’s think tank, Exponent, as reporting its cost $3,120.

In a June interview, Milanovich told The Desert Sun:

“For only $40 per pay period, or $1,040 annually, (employees) who have one child or several children can enroll their offspring in our (preferred provider organization) health plan.”

Nilsson, however, maintains that the survey of 199 low-waged workers “found that 46 percent enrolled their children in Medi-Cal or the state Healthy Families program…”


Exponent, the tribe’s analyst, said the study was flawed because it only surveyed a few employees and did not include overtime and tips in calculating wages.

“By omitting critical data — in particular obvious income sources such as tips and overtime — the UCLA researchers substantially underestimated the earnings of casino workers.”

As part of its response to the H.E.R.E. organizing campaign, the tribe has hired Sitrick and Co. Inc. of Los Angeles, a public relations firm noted for doing damage control for its clients, which recently have included the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.