Expect union pickets outside Trump Taj Mahal next week, a labor leader warned Friday.

A federal judge’s decision to nix the casino’s labor contract with its main union triggered a fiery response from Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, who said casino executives are hell-bent on staffing the bankrupt property with “a slave work force.”

McDevitt took to the Boardwalk on Friday to blast the ruling, calling the judge’s decision to impose sweeping labor concessions on about 1,100 Local 54 workers “a disgrace.”

Trump Entertainment Resorts, which runs Trump Taj Mahal, says the concessions are needed to keep the bankrupt property open past Nov. 13.

On Friday U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross gave the greenlight for the company to swap union pension payments with 401(k) plans and to stop paying into a union health fund; under the plan workers will find insurance through the Affordable Care Act instead.

Those and other court-ordered concessions amount to a 35 percent pay cut for cooks, housekeepers, and other low-paid hourly Taj workers who now find themselves “in poverty-level jobs,” McDevitt said Friday.

Reacting to the ruling, Valerie McMorris, a Taj waitress who says she’s worked there for 24 years, said “With the stroke of a pen we’ve gone from middle-class jobs in this city to working poor.”

But Robert Griffin, CEO of Trump Entertainment Resorts, said in a statement that the ruling affords the company a chance to keep the property open and prevent 3,000 workers from losing jobs.

For weeks McDevitt has said the company’s main lender, Carl Icahn, is really the one calling the shots.

Icahn owns Tropicana, another Boardwalk casino hotel. And because he controls Trump Entertainment’s first-lien debt, which is secured by Trump Taj Mahal and the closed Trump Plaza, he’s considered the de facto owner of those properties also.

On Friday McDevitt cast Icahn as a rapacious, union-busting puppeteer orchestrating a campaign to debase worker benefits city-wide.

Collective bargaining agreements often require a union to give similar deals to competing employers. So-called “most-favored employer” clauses are used to equalize labor contracts and prevent a particular company from gaining a labor advantage in a market.

McDevitt says concessions at the Taj will spread like a contagion to other casino hotels. “The entire city’s under siege,” he said Friday.

He said Icahn’s Havana-themed resort could be swept up in the union dispute playing out at the Taj. “If I gotta take it to the Trop, I’ll take it to the Trop,” McDevitt said.

Icahn said Friday: “Well that means he wants to close up two casinos instead of one. He’s really out there doing his union membership a great favor.”

Icahn says he brought Tropicana back from the brink of closure, invested more than $80 million in the property, and created hundreds of jobs there. “We saved Tropicana when everybody gave up on it,” he told The Press on Friday.

And he rejected Local 54’s claim that Taj workers are facing steep cuts to their health care. “If you’re a low-wage employee you’ll still be getting your medical care and not be paying for it because of Obamacare or Medicaid,” he said. “In fact, you’ll be getting an extra $2,000 a year because of the wage increase every full-time employee will be getting.”

Local 54 disputes that characterization. It says members will be forced to spend large out-of-pocket sums to obtain insurance through the Affordable Care Act that is comparable to their union health plan. And it says the idea of a pay-raise is a farce because the workers will no longer receive paid meal breaks.

Trump Entertainment says it now needs relief from the state to stay open.

But state Senate President Stephen Sweeney said in a statement Friday that he “won’t allow state or any other public funds or subsidies to be used to support this plan.”

State casino regulators need to know next week if Trump Taj Mahal plans to close in less than a month. 

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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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