ATLANTIC CITY - Casino officials lashed back at United Auto Workers on Sunday, accusing the union of "irresponsible grandstanding and bullying tactics" a day after workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against two resort casinos.

Dealers at Bally's Atlantic City and slot technicians at Caesars Atlantic City voted Saturday night to reserve the right to strike against their respective casinos.

"The UAW's behavior reflects its irrational desire to punish an employer without regard for the consequences to its members, which in this case could be significant," said Alyce Parker, a spokeswoman for Harrah's Entertainment Inc., which owns Bally's and Caesars.

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The Detroit-based union is trying to obtain a first-ever contract for its members at the casinos. Bally's has declined to bargain with the union and has appealed a federal labor board's ruling that it must. Caesars management has been in negotiations for more than 18 months.

The authorization vote allows the union to strike against the casinos if both sides cannot reach an agreement. However, no strike date has been scheduled.

"Nobody wants a strike, but we're going to stand up to enforce our rights," said Ed Hendricks, a Caesars slot technician for 15 years. "We have negotiated for almost two years, but instead of reaching an agreement, the company keeps cutting back. Harrah's has cut our 401K match, increased our benefit costs and laid off our fellow workers."

Union officials say members voted overwhelmingly for the authorization, claiming 97 percent voted in favor. However, the union did not detail how many workers attended the vote. Asked Sunday, a media official said he did not have the number.

Parker said the casinos are entitled to replace strikers with temporary or permanent workers, if a strike actually takes place. UAW officials said Sunday that their group almost always manages to agree on contract terms before going to strike.

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