After negotiations between the Trump Taj Mahal and Unite Here Local 54 failed, the casino’s approximately 950 union workers hit the picket lines on Friday morning at 6am; while the other four Atlantic City casinos which were threatening to strike reached agreements on Thursday.
Staff including housekeepers, servers, cooks, and bellmen at the Taj Mahal, which through a bankruptcy restructuring plan was taken over by billionaire business magnate Carl Icahn in March of last year, were among those who walked off the job. The Tropicana, which Icahn also owns, reached an agreement with the union on Thursday afternoon. Tentative agreements were also reached on Thursday with Caesars Entertainment’s Bally’s, Harrah’s, and Caesars, the other Atlantic City casinos that were facing a possible strike.
Workers were looking to recoup the part of its package the union gave up during contract talks in 2011 when the casinos were struggling. That includes upwards of a week of paid vacation. In addition, workers want their wages to be increased by $3, to be implemented over five years in increments of .60 cents, as well as contributions by employers to the union’s health fund in order to maintain benefits at their current levels. Workers have said that at a time when casinos are reaping the benefits of the highest operating profit in a decade, the average pay remains below the cost of living at $11.74 per hour.
According to Bob McDevitt, the union’s president, a good deal of those concessions were able to be regained through the new contracts. McDevitt said, “We bargained through the night with Caesars, and our negotiating committee has recommended that the membership ratify the tentative agreement,” and, “We are glad that Caesars Entertainment recognized the importance of fair wages and benefits to the workers in Atlantic City,” according to the Associated Press.
Bally’s and Caesars president, Kevin Ortzman, also told the news agency, “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with Local 54 that keeps our employees at work and allows them to continue to deliver the outstanding service and experience that our guests have come to expect,” and, “Caesars Entertainment is proud of the investments it has made to contribute to Atlantic City’s revitalization and will continue to help drive the city’s revival.”
Specifics of the agreements have yet to be released, but it’s being recommended by union leadership that workers ratify them, according to CNN. The city’s other three casinos, Golden Nugget, Borgata, and Resorts aren’t affected due to an indefinite extension that the union has given them.
In the last few years, four of Atlantic City’s casinos have closed due to the industry’s struggles. And in December, Moody’s rating service suggested the possibility of more of the city’s eight remaining casinos closing. 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.
Meanwhile, the state is trying to deal with its own issues, the most daunting of which is the $100 million budget shortfall and the ongoing battle between it Atlantic City over a possible takeover.