Local 54

Officials with Local 54 of UNITE-HERE say as many as 1,000 people lined up for hours seeking assistance Friday at a relief center at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Atlantic City.

Staff photo by Joel Landau

With casinos operating on skeleton crews for the near future, their employees’ main union is providing a one-stop center for members to get services, especially unemployment benefits for those who qualify.

Local 54 of UNITE-HERE on Friday opened a Helping Hands Relief Center at St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church on North Mississippi Avenue that will be open every day except Sundays through Nov. 20, union President Bob McDevitt said.

Between 13,000 and 14,000 workers are members of Local 54, he said.

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“There are people who have not lost anything (from the storm), but they haven’t worked in two weeks,” he said.

McDevitt said it could be “a long time” before the casinos operate again with full staffs.

“Half of our core market is New York and North Jersey,” he said. “They have a disaster. They’re not in a position to come here.”

The union reached out to as many organizations as it could to find services to help the employees. The church has representatives and information for programs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, utility companies, Catholic Charities and the American Red Cross. Its people can help the employees sign up for assistance with food, clothing, shelter and unemployment benefits.

“There is an incredible need in the community,” McDevitt said. “We felt we should coordinate this. As far as organizations go, we connect to most of the people.”

Though it’s a union-sponsored program, “no one will be turned away,” he said.

The union put the word out to its members and expected a soft opening at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Michael’s. When they arrived at 8 a.m., a line of people had been waiting for two hours. Organizers expected more than 1,000 people to receive assistance Friday, as a large line snaked through the parking lot all day.

Cleveland Cook, of Somers Point, waited in line from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. so he could sign up for unemployment. The restaurant worker at Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino said he has not been told when he can return to his job. He has missed two weeks of work already.

Cook said he tried to go through other channels to sign up but incurred obstacles. He said he felt more comfortable talking to people in his union and felt they would take better care of him.

“The union will do everything they can to help us,” he said.

Scott Cooper, a member of the union’s office in New Orleans, traveled to Atlantic City to help the efforts in the resort. Cooper said he dealt with the same situation when Hurricane Katrina struck his area in 2005 and said hospitality took a hit for a while.

Ventnor resident Louis G. Rua, an environmental services employee at Resorts Casino Hotel, said he is back at work but hoped to get unemployment compensation for the three days he missed. He also wanted to apply for food stamps.

“A lot of people are missing hours,” he said. “It’s going to be hard for them to pay their rent.”

Galloway Township resident Kamlesh Patel, an environmental services employee at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, said he has not been told when he can return to work. His home sustained serious roof damage. He hopes to find a new home and food stamps to replace the food that spoiled when his home lost electricity.

Atlantic City residents Yu Xiu Tent, a housekeeper at Borgata, said her home on South LaClede Place was flooded and she is still without electricity and gas due to the damage.

“I didn’t know where to ask for help,” she said. “I’m thankful they can help me.”

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