Forty-nine hospitality workers were arrested Friday night during a 500-person protest in Atlantic City over stalled contract negotiations with Tropicana Casino and Resort.
The two-hour demonstration shut down Pacific Avenue between Iowa and Chelsea avenues to divert traffic around protestors who sat on Pacific near Brighton Avenue, near Tropicana’s main hotel entrance and valet parking line.
Tropicana refuses to continue paying into Local 54 of UNITE-HERE’s pension fund, a sticking point that brought contract negotiations to a standstill in February and led to the arrests Friday — the first in eight years linked to a demonstration by the union. In 2004, members blocked the Atlantic City Expressway where it touches Atlantic Avenue as Michigan Avenue.
Tropicana CEO Tony Rodio released a statement Friday that pointed to a bankruptcy court ruling from 2010 that exempted the property’s new owners from righting a pension system that underfunded by $1.4 billion. The company also decided to suspend a planned $100 million reinvestment in the casino if the union does not back down by fall, when renovation of hotel rooms in the North Tower is scheduled to begin. That’s part of a $25 million phase — the first of four — that already has generated new amenities including slot machines and a nightclub.
“We’ll continue with design work and all the other preparations. We’ll re-evaluate it, but unless more clarity on this situation, it’s on hold,” Rodio said by phone Friday. “When you have a union and a group of people do everything they can to disrupt your businesses, it’s not prudent to be investing in a market where there’s that much uncertainty.”
Union President Bob McDevitt, who was the last one handcuffed, and the others driven away in an Atlantic County Sheriff’s bus set themselves apart by wearing neon green shirts. McDevitt said he ran background checks on union members who volunteered to be arrested to prevent complications and also met in advance with city officials.
Each person arrested was charged with two disorderly persons offenses: One for obstructing a highway and the other for refusing to obey an official request or order to move. Everyone was processed in about an hour on a summons to appear in municipal court. At that time, a fine will be assessed with a maximum of $500 per person or a maximum imprisonment of 30 days in jail.
The rally, which started at 5 p.m. on the Boardwalk on the opposite side of the casino, broke up around 7 p.m. That’s when Phish was scheduled to start the first of three performances this weekend at Bader Field. McDevitt said the concert didn’t play a role scheduling the event, but that he believes the presence of additional people can only be beneficial to the union’s cause.
City officials said the demonstration did not significantly affect traffic already congested due to the concert.
But Rodio criticized Local 54’s timing. “Atlantic City is in critical condition and at a crossroads,” Rodio said. “But … Local 54 continues to engage in tactics that drive business away from Atlantic City precisely at a time when all of Atlantic City leadership should be coming together to create a positive environment for our guests.”
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