On the morning of Friday, July 8 at approximately 6am, about 900 Local 54 UNITE HERE hospitality workers from the Trump Taj Mahal entered week two of the strike against the casino once owned by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
While the other four Atlantic City casinos which were threatening to strike reached agreements on the eve of the walk-out, negotiations between the Trump Taj Mahal and Unite Here Local 54 failed and staff including housekeepers, servers, cooks, and bellmen at the Boardwalk casino were among those who walked off the job. And it appears as if both sides are preparing for what could potentially be a long contract dispute beginning with the two months when Atlantic City casinos gross more than any other time of the year.
Trump’s friend and fellow billionaire investor Carl Icahn took over the Taj Mahal last year, but not before getting a bankruptcy court to strip the unionized members of their health and pension benefits; overall, worker compensation in wages and benefits was cut by 35 percent.
Those benefits need to be reinstated in some form. Failure to do that could result in a precedent being set that other casinos might eventually follow. For now, though, it seems as though picketers are digging in for the long haul. KYW Newsradio was told by union spokeswoman Diana Hussein that the striking workers “had a major boost over the holiday weekend,” and, “It was almost like a party out there. It was fun for them. They’re ready to keep going and go as long as it takes to get their fair contract.” And on Saturday, in a show of support for the striking workers, New jersey Senator Cory Booker and Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who represents the state’s 2nd congressional district, stopped by the picket line to give workers some words of inspiration.
While the cost of living in the Boardwalk city has risen more than 25% within the past 12 years, many of the Taj Mahal’s workers have seen raises during that twelve-year period of less than a dollar combined. Servers, housekeepers, and other casino workers at the Atlantic City casino earn an average of less than $12 an hour.
The strike comes at a time when the state is trying to deal with a slew of issues, the most daunting of which is the $100 million budget shortfall and the ongoing battle between it and Atlantic City over a possible takeover. Meanwhile, older casinos in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York already draw gamblers away from the Garden State, and if the referendum to allow two new casinos in North Jersey is successful in November, Atlantic City’s exclusivity rights, which it has enjoyed since casinos were legalized there in 1976, are over.
UNITE HERE Local 54’s president Bob McDevitt understands how important places like the Taj Mahal are for the city, “We have said from the beginning that it is impossible to revitalize Atlantic City unless the casino industry offers good jobs that let workers support their families. Four other casinos have recognized that simple fact, and it’s a shame that the Trump Taj Mahal can’t get with the program,” according to a UNITE HERE press release.
To date, no new talks have been scheduled.