ATLANTIC CITY — When Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort closed in October 2016, two men shouldered the lion’s share of public scorn: property owner Carl Icahn and Bob McDevitt, president of casino-worker union Unite Here Local 54.

Less than two years later, one of them has claimed absolution as the property was reopened as the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City.

“Absolutely, we do,” McDevitt replied when asked whether the union felt vindicated after its role in the Taj Mahal closure.

Icahn could not be reached for comment.

Icahn and McDevitt engaged in a bitter dispute over employee benefits and compensation, resulting in a workers’ strike that lasted 102 days. The standoff led to the casino hotel’s closing and nearly 2,000 lost jobs.

Standing inside Hard Rock LIVE at Etess Arena on June 28, McDevitt said hundreds of former Taj employees are working at the new casino property. The union head said that despite members being blamed for the fifth Atlantic City casino closing in two years, the workers did the right thing.

“I think the one thing they’re walking away today with is they know that their actions not only were morally justified (but) their actions brought about today,” McDevitt said. “And even if the rest of the wider community won’t recognize that, they know in their heart that their fight brought this new beginning for Atlantic City. And I think they’re proud about that.”

After reaching a high-water mark of 16,279 in 2004, Local 54 membership dropped as Atlantic City casino revenue started falling and properties began to cut staff. By the end of 2016, membership had fallen to 9,256, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. Last year, the union’s filing reported 10,266 members. That figure will rise when 2018 numbers are reported and employees at Hard Rock and Ocean Resort Casino — which also opened in June, at the site of the former Revel Casino Hotel — are included.

Of the 450 Local 54 members who were former Taj Mahal employees, 385 were hired by Hard Rock, and a total of 800 former Taj employees were given jobs with the new casino hotel, according to Hard Rock officials. At Ocean Resort, roughly 25 percent of the property’s 3,300 employees are former Revel employees and close to 1,200 are Local 54 members.

During a recent editorial board meeting with The Press, Matt Harkness, property president of Hard Rock, said that Local 54 and the casino have a “good relationship.”

“We invited Local 54 to come in and do card (membership) signings during orientation,” Harkness said. “We (want) to be friends with 54.”

At the same time McDevitt was watching Hard Rock executives smash guitars to signal the property’s arrival in Atlantic City, former Taj workers were picking up settlement checks at the Local 54 office on Atlantic Avenue. As part of a $1 million unfair labor-practice settlement with Icahn, 944 former Taj employees each received $850.76.

“The thing that makes this nice is it’s Carl’s money,” said Keith Fullmer, 67, a bartender who worked at Taj and now works at Hard Rock. “It’s just the idea that we put him out of business and we were, I believe, the first union to stand up to him and win.”

But not everyone is satisfied that the actions taken by McDevitt and Local 54 benefited Atlantic City casino workers.

Jamie Boyd, a bartender at Il Mulino in Hard Rock, said the union leadership failed her during a labor dispute she had with Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in 2013. Afterward, Boyd, 37, said she found work at Revel for the same pay and comparable benefits without having to pay union dues that “went right into their pockets.”

“We don’t need them,” she said. “They don’t do (expletive). They’re all about union. All they do is protect lazy people.”

Contact: 609-272-7222

Twitter @ACPressDanzis

Staff Writer

I cover Atlantic City government and the casino industry since joining The Press in early 2018. I formerly worked as a politics & government reporter for NJ Herald and received the First Amendment: Art Weissman Memorial NJPA Award two years in a row.

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