Tropicana Casino and Resort has suspended 21 workers who were arrested last week during a union protest that blocked traffic and disrupted the casino’s business.
Tony Rodio, Tropicana’s president and chief executive officer, said the employees have been suspended indefinitely and may be fired once the casino makes a final decision about disciplinary action.
“This went beyond a peaceful demonstration,” Rodio said. “They were arrested and engaged in illegal activity.”
Local 54 of UNITE-HERE, the union representing the workers, accused Tropicana of violating the employees’ constitutional right to free speech.
“It is outrageous that Tropicana continues to break the law,” Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said in a statement. “Tony Rodio is behaving like a bully, trying to intimidate the workers. Tropicana has suspended 21 people who exercised their First Amendment right to protest Tropicana’s illegal refusal to bargain and to try to make life better for themselves, their families and their communities.”
The workers were part of a demonstration Friday evening staged by Local 54 to protest stalled contract negotiations with Tropicana. Altogether, 49 union members were arrested after they sat down in the roadway and blocked traffic near Tropicana’s entrance. Local 54 spokesman Ben Begleiter said no other casinos suspended their workers for participating in the protest.
“This is totally illegal behavior on Tropicana’s part,” Begleiter said.
Rodio maintained that Tropicana’s workers gave up their rights to free speech by “going over the line” and breaking the law. He said the protest interrupted business at Tropicana for about an hour, but did not have a serious impact overall.
Tropicana and Local 54 have clashed following the casino’s decision in February to declare an impasse in their contract negotiations. Tropicana unilaterally imposed its own contract terms on the Local 54 members, including ending their traditional pension plan. Over the union’s objections, Tropicana now gives Local 54 members their choice of accepting cash payments or enrolling in a 401(k) plan instead of participating in the former pension program.
“We’ve implemented our contract, and for three months they refused to meet with us,” Rodio said.
Laura Turpin, one of the union workers suspended by Tropicana, said the casino has eliminated or reduced pension benefits, health care, vacation pay and birthday pay. She said the union protest was aimed at restoring benefits that employees had earned over decades of work.
“This was all done illegally by a contract imposed on us by Tony Rodio,” said Turpin, 63, of Millville. “It was very callous. ... This is an outrage.”
Turpin, a banquet server at Tropicana for 24 years, said she now fears losing her job. Despite the risk of being fired, she vowed to continue fighting for a new contract.
Local 54, Atlantic City’s largest casino union, represents bartenders, cocktail servers, cooks, housekeeping staff and other service workers. Tropicana is the only casino that has not reached a new deal with Local 54 since the old union contract expired last September. The bitterness escalated during Friday’s protest and has intensified even more following the suspension of the 21 Tropicana workers.
“These people, who collectively have over 250 years of service to the Tropicana, were prepared to take the legal consequences of participating in a civil disobedience,” McDevitt said. “Tony Rodio is a local who has turned his back on his workers and neighbors, and we hold him fully responsible for Tropicana’s shameful behavior.”
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