Unemployed and underemployed union members waiting for meal cards


At 7:30 a.m. Thursday, with temperatures around 30 degrees, a line stretched out the back of St. Michael’s Church in Atlantic City, through the parking lot and out onto North Georgia Avenue.

The people were lined up 30 minutes ahead of time as UNITE HERE Local 54, the Atlantic City hotel and restaurant employees union, distributed $50 ShopRite cards to hundreds of unemployed or underemployed members.

Local 54 President Bob McDevitt said that the international union started a hardship fund after Hurricane Sandy struck Oct. 29. Local unions from other parts of the country also donated money to the fund.

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“We decided that the best way to spend that money is to provide a meal card,” he said. Because there are so many different ethnicities in the union, McDevitt said, the cards made more sense than giving away the more traditional ham or turkey.

Felicia Gbayee, of Brigantine, who was close to the front of the line, said she arrived two hours early. She’s worked at Bally’s for 20 years.

“Since Hurricane Sandy, my hours were reduced; she’s a bad girl,” Gbayee said. “It’s getting terrible. I used to work 40 hours a week. Now I’m getting 28 or 29 hours.”

Despite the reduced hours and the cold, she laughed a lot with others in line.

“I kept talking with my beautiful friends and my brother-in-law,” she said. “I keep them warm.”

Dora Caban, of Atlantic City, showed up an hour early. She has worked in food service at Harrah’s for 13 years and has been a member of the union for 17 years. She used to work 40 hours a week.

“I didn’t work for two weeks after Sandy, and then after that it was eight hours a week,” she said. “I am having trouble. I didn’t pay (the) mortgage for almost three months.”

Just after 8 a.m., members at the front of the line were let inside to receive cards. McDevitt said that members had to show identification, a schedule or paystub that proves they are underemployed, and that their union dues had to be paid through September.

Most members waited in line and left with their cards. They were offered parking validation and bus passes on their way out.

Silena Dunn, of Atlantic City, was refused a card, she said, because she crossed the picket line in 2004.

“I waited a long time in line just to find out I can’t have anything,” she said. “I think it’s wrong because I have kids. Just because I didn’t go on strike in 2004, they’re not helping now.”

Yoel Madina, of Pleasantville, did get his card. He waited in the cold for an hour but he said he didn’t mind. Since Sandy, he’s down to 28 hours a week as a food runner and line server at Taj Mahal.

“I’m going to get myself some chicken, maybe some bread, the regular stuff,” he said. “Just the little stuff.”

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