Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54, seen here at a rally outside the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City  in early April, says the union developed the ordinances to improve the lives of casino employees who work without a union contract.

Edward Lea

ATLANTIC CITY — Hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 54 started pushing Thursday for local laws targeting practices it says are harming employees not represented by a bargaining unit — particularly at Atlantic City’s newest casino.

The effort was prompted by hiring policies at Revel casino hotel, which opened April 2 in the city’s South Inlet section.

The union filed petitions with the Atlantic City Clerk to let local voters consider two ordinances in November. The new city laws would ban term limits on jobs and mandate benefits, including at least 12 days of paid sick and personal time for workers at resort-based businesses with at least 250 people on their payroll.

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The term-limits reference pertains to Revel’s plans to review dealers, servers, bartenders and other front-line workers’ employment after four to six years. Local 54 is involved in a union drive at the resort, along with Teamsters Local 331 and the United Auto Workers Region 9.

A first among Atlantic City casinos, the hiring practice aims to ensure fresh faces in positions with the most direct contact with customers, the casino operator has stated.

Local 54, which represents 14,000 South Jersey hospitality workers, previously condemned the policy as discriminatory.

“Over the past several years, nonunion employers have been paying substandard wages and benefits. Revel, with its term limits and increased reliance on part-time workers, has taken this to a new low. We developed these ordinances in order to improve the lives of the men and women who work in this city without the protection of a union contract,” said union President Bob McDevitt in a statement released Thursday.

Revel released a statement calling union referendum efforts “a facade for the union’s campaign against Revel” and defending its compensation and other practices.

“The union’s efforts are not about improving the living and working conditions of nonunion employees in Atlantic City — Revel’s employees already have that,” the release stated.   “This is about one thing:  increasing the monthly revenue for UNITE-HERE Local 54 by increasing dues-paying members.”

"There's an appropriate place for the initiative and referendum process; however, here, this is an attempt to subvert the rightful authority of the city and thwart private enterprise, particularly Revel," said Lloyd D. Levenson, Revel's attorney.

Revel described pay there as the same or higher than  the local gambling industry average and stated full-time workers get paid time off for illness, vacations, holidays, bereavement and jury duty, plus a 401(k) program and bonus pay opportunities.

As for the front-line employee review after four to six years, workers “can continue another term of employment with Revel, with no cut in wages, benefits or seniority, if they so desire and are still motivated in their jobs, or if they choose they can move on to bigger and better opportunities either within Revel or outside of Revel.  We prefer to allow the employee to make their own choice.”  

Modeled after laws in New York City, one proposed ordinance would give workers at least 12 days of paid sick or personal time, another 12 unpaid with documentation of their or a relative’s medical needs, and as many as 12 more paid days in a given year depending on how many months out of that year an employee worked.

They also would be eligible for up to $100 weekly for paid child care and $2.50 per shift to cover commuting costs. And while on jury duty, they’d get paid the difference between the daily government stipend and their normal compensation, the ordinance states.

“We don’t have anything like that in our contract. We believe because of precedent, of other attempts, that we can’t legislate health care or a supplement, that we had to go where the law allowed us to go,” McDevitt said.

The other “just-cause” ordinance would require employers to prove a “legitimate business reason” for firing workers on the job for 60 days or longer. Those reasons could include unsatisfactory job performance — but not reaching a term limit, the guidelines state.

 The just-cause law also would prohibit companies from reducing employee tips by the cost of credit card service fees or other deductions, aside from those required by state tax codes. Similar to those in place in Philadelphia, the guidelines are meant to stem what McDevitt described as “a common abuse of servers and bartenders in the restaurant industry.”

Local 54 sought referendums twice previously to let voters decide whether to provide government subsidies to Revel. Despite being accompanied by enough supportive signatures, neither petition resulted in a citywide vote.

The first attempt was in 2008. Local 54 sought to let voters decide whether the city could borrow $56 million on Revel’s behalf to help the company pay for a $90 million road project. Former City Clerk Rosemary Adams rejected that petition on the advice of city attorneys who said the matter wasn’t subject to referendum because it dealt with the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.

The second petition pertained to a $261 million graduated tax refund the $2.4 billion casino will receive during the next 20 years through the state’s Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant program. In order to get it, Revel needed support from the local governing body. Atlantic City Council already had adopted that ordinance when Local 54 sought to overturn it in January 2010 through a voter referendum. Local officials tossed that petition as well, prompting the union to sue.

In the meantime, state legislators changed New Jersey guidelines so that they prevented a voter decision on Revel’s ERG grant. Before the rules took effect, however, Local 54 prevailed in its lawsuit against the city. The April 2010 ruling blasted the city for dismissing the union’s petition for referendum, but failed to address how the new guidelines could come into play. Revel then withdrew its ERG grant application just before Gov. Chris Christie signed the new rules into law in May 2010.

Revel ultimately refiled its application for the ERG. State approval in February 2011 helped reassure potential investors sought by the company to make up the $1 billion in financing lost when Morgan Stanley pulled out.

It also prompted Local 54 to sue one month later. That lawsuit is pending.

How it works: voter referendum

The ordinances proposed by UNITE HERE Local 54 must go through a few more steps before they secure spots on election ballots.

State law requires the municipal clerk to verify a certain number of signatures accompanying petitions that would enact new local laws: 15 percent of voters who turned out for the last election for General Assembly.

In Atlantic City, that amounts to 642, about 400 fewer than the list submitted Thursday by Local 54.

The local governing body and county clerk also must review the measure and agree to put it on the ballot, New Jersey law states.


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