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USW rallies for free speech in Bethlehem

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Nov 19 2012 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 20 2012 09:03:09 PM CST

Freedom of speech or freedom to control your own property?

BETHLEHEM, Pa. -

Freedom of speech or freedom to control your own property? That's the debate circulating around the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem. Tuesday afternoon, union workers protested new rules that ban union events at the city's Steelstacks campus.

"This is public land and they limit what can be said here, which in the first amendment, should allow us to use this for whatever we want it to," said Davis Swartz, a retired Bethlehem Steel worker.

When the Sands Casino transferred the Steelstacks land to the Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, it came with certain deed restrictions.

"It said that there was no speech that would be related to labor issues, especially when it comes to organizing," said Jerry Green, president of the local United Steelworkers Union.

The deed also bans events "that would be considered offensive to a reasonable casino operator."

The Sands refused to comment about why it included the restrictions, but casino owner Sheldon Adelson is a vocal union opponent. None of the Sands' 40 thousand employees worldwide is unionized, although security guards in Bethlehem are attempting to.

"Thanks for the jobs, thanks for bringing work here, but don't tread of my rights -- fundamental rights to free speech," said Lew Dopson, a USW member protesting at the rally.

Although Tuesday's event was technically a violation, neither city crews nor Bethlehem Police tried to break it up.

Green believes the restrictions are a free speech slippery slope.

"What would stop another seller to come in, sell a piece of land to Bethlehem, and put deed restrictions on maybe age, race, sexual orientation?", he asked.

Although the unions think these restrictions violate their right to free speech in a public space, at this point, Green said there are no plans for a lawsuit. In fact, opponents probably couldn't sue until someone tries to stop them from rallying.