ATLANTIC CITY — About 1,000 members of UNITE-HERE Local 54 went on strike at Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort on Friday morning, banging paint cans like drums, chanting and trying to disrupt the resort’s most struggling casino.
Negotiations fell apart around midnight, after Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said the casino offered only “a shadow” of health benefits that were negotiated at four other casinos Thursday.
“At the Taj Mahal, they want to be up to the standards of the rest of the city,” McDevitt said.
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No further negotiations have been scheduled, he said.
Restoring health benefits has been a sticking point for Taj Mahal workers for nearly two years, after a federal judge allowed the casino to end health and pension payments in bankruptcy.
Casino workers strike Trump Taj Mahal
Union worker Noelle DiSomma, of Brigantine, pickets on the Boardwalk in front of Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Friday July 1, 2016. UNITE …
Spectators watch union workers picket on the Boardwalk in from an upper deck at Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Friday July 1, 2016. UNITE H…
Union President Bob McDevitt meets with picketer Maureen Mahoney, of Atlantic City, on the Boardwalk picket line in front of Trump Taj Mahal i…
Union worker Maria Guzman, of Ventnor, walks the picket line on Pacific Avenue in front of Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Friday July 1, 20…
Union worker Sherman Hardman, of Mays Landing, pickets on the Boardwalk in front of Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Friday July 1, 2016. UNI…
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Atlantic City's main casino workers union went on strike Friday morning against the Trump Taj Mahal casino. Here's …
Trump Taj Mahal intermediate cook Myra Gonzalez, 55, of Brigantine, went on strike with other UNITE HERE Local 54 union members at the casino …
Local 54 strikes at the Trump Taj Mahal on Friday morning. Most protestors were on the Boardwalk, but a few stood by the street entrance to th…
The casino remained open Friday, with a scattering of gamblers playing slot machines and table games in the morning.
Taj Mahal General Manager Alan Rivin said strike contingency plans are in place, allowing the casino to remain open and fully functioning through the weekend and summer.
Carl Icahn’s Icahn Enterprises, which owns the Taj Mahal and Tropicana Atlantic City, said it offered Taj Mahal workers restoration of contributions toward an employee health insurance plan.
The company said it has engaged in good-faith negotiations, but by striking the union is hurting the financially struggling casino and its own workers.
“The employees of the Taj Bargaining Committee seem hell-bent on trying to close this property and killing the jobs and livelihood of the other Taj employees, including their own union members and members of other unions, notwithstanding the fact that Taj ownership has presented good-faith, concrete, progressive proposals to restore certain employee benefits including contributions toward employee health care,” Tony Rodio, who is Tropicana’s president and CEO and manager at the Taj Mahal, said in a statement. “They are hurting their own and everybody else during the busiest time of the year.”
Wearing red shirts with #UNITEAC stretched across the back, striking workers — bartenders, servers, porters and other hospitality workers — marched in giant circles on the Boardwalk as well as the casino’s street entrance off Pacific Avenue.
They yelled, “All day. All night. Local 54 on strike,” banged on makeshift drums and shouted into megaphones ahead of one of the busiest weekends of the year at the tourism-dependent shore.
Visitor Julie Moodler, of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, was staying at another casino hotel this weekend. She had just heard of the strike and wanted to see it.
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“I would imagine it would have some impact for (Taj Mahal) and probably have a positive impact for other casinos,” she said.
That is generally what happened in 2004, when 10,000 union members walked off the job at seven casinos for an entire month.
That month proved to be the highest-grossing October at the time for the city’s then-12 casinos — about $388 million.
But five of the seven casinos where workers were on strike suffered losses, the largest by drops of 20 percent, 19 percent and 14 percent.
The nonstrike casinos all saw increases, including Trump Taj Mahal, where revenue grew 10 percent that month.
There was last a strike at the Taj Mahal in 1999, which lasted only a few days.
Mayra Gonzalez, 55, of Brigantine, a 26-year employee who started shucking oysters and is now an intermediate cook, remembers that strike.
Gonzalez said restoring health insurance benefits is a priority.
Since she lost benefits at the Taj Mahal, she said she joined the exchange through the federal Affordable Care Act.
A diabetic, she said the plan and her medications cost her more than $300 a month. She said she earns $450 a week at the Taj Mahal.
The loss of health benefits took a chunk of her salary, she said.
“That’s why I’m here. I think we have to send the company a message, and I think we are,” she said. “We’re willing to be here as long as it takes to get at least some of it back, especially health care.”
Local 54 represents about 9,600 workers in the city.
McDevitt, the union’s president since 1996, said approval of bringing casinos to Atlantic City four decades ago included a social contract of “good jobs with benefits, with middle-class jobs.”
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He said, “This was not what the mission was for Atlantic City.”
Maria Guzman, 49, of Ventnor, works as a waitress at the Taj Mahal and said she hasn’t been to a doctor since losing health insurance 20 months ago.
“I’m afraid if I see the doctor, something will pop up,” she said.
Local 54’s longest strike was in 2004, when staff shortages caused casinos to close hotel rooms and restaurants.
During that campaign, the union ran commercials featuring Danny Glover and the Rev. Jesse Jackson and had an Oct. 8 sit-in at the base of the Atlantic City Expressway that blocked traffic heading into the city.
McDevitt said there are plans to extend the protest but would not say whether the union might resort to similar techniques during this strike.
A potentially larger strike was averted Thursday after Local 54 reached tentative agreements with four other casinos where it had threatened to walk off the job: Tropicana Atlantic City, Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and Harrah’s Resort.
Details of those tentative agreements have not been disclosed.
McDevitt called it “the best contract we’ve negotiated in 20 years.”
The strike comes as revenues have been growing across Atlantic City’s casino industry.
Local 54 of Unite Here has been on strike at seven casinos since Oct. 1. There following is …
The city’s total casino win through May was $1 billion, up 3.3 percent from the same five-month period last year, according to the most recent figures from the state Division of Gaming Enforcement.
But there remain some significant obstacles in the future, including a November referendum that could expand gambling to North Jersey. Some analysts suggest additional gambling halls in the state could lead to more Atlantic City casino closings.