ATLANTIC CITY — Fourth of July weekend is the busiest time of year for shore towns in South Jersey.
But you wouldn’t know that by sitting in the Trump Taj Mahal on Saturday.
A handful of guests sat at the slot machines and poker tables in the Taj as the sounds of drumbeats and chants from striking employees echoed through the lobby next to the Boardwalk.
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There’s really not that many people here anymore,” said Zbigniew Stroz, a Taj overnight guest who has been coming to the casino resort with his wife, Caroline, for 10 years. “We were at Golden Nugget, and it was packed. It’s really a shame.”
The Taj may become the center of the political universe Wednesday when Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visits Atlantic City.
UNITE-HERE Local 54 President Bob McDevitt announced Saturday while talking to a large group of striking employees that Clinton could be making a stop at the strike while in the city. Clinton’s campaign had announced the Atlantic City visit Friday, though it did not provide a specific time or location.
As for the strike itself, McDevitt said the two sides were not any closer to striking a deal than they were Friday, when about 1,000 workers walked off the job.
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“I don’t have any communication with the company right now,” he said. “They haven’t called, and there’s no negotiations scheduled.”
Restoring health benefits has been a sticking point for Taj Mahal workers for nearly two years, after a federal judge allowed the casino to end health and pension payments in bankruptcy. Billionaire investor Carl Icahn’s Icahn Enterprises, which owns the Taj Mahal and Tropicana Atlantic City, said Friday it offered Taj Mahal workers restoration of contributions toward an employee health insurance plan.
Taj Mahal General Manager Alan Rivin said Saturday that the strike will not affect the resort’s day-to-day operations.
“Despite the labor action, the Taj Mahal remains open for business and is fully functioning,” he said in a statement. “We have strike contingency plans in place and are prepared to welcome our guests and continue to provide everyone first-class accommodations and entertainment this weekend and throughout the summer. We expect the strike to have minimal impact on our operations.”
The strike comes after the city mostly shredded talk of a state takeover by Memorial Day weekend, and with it, phrases like “government shutdown” and “bankruptcy.” But a new buzzword has emerged during the city’s busiest weekend: “strike.”
“Whether we’re talking about state takeover or the flummox Straub opening or this strike, it seems Atlantic City can’t catch a break,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University and a Longport resident.
Council President Marty Small said a strike isn’t in the city’s interest at any time, especially on the July 4 weekend when casino revenues are starting to bounce back.
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“We don’t need any more bad publicity. We had the sensationalism of Hurricane Sandy, we had four casinos closed, 10,000 people lose jobs and Hurricane Christie,” Small said, referring to the governor’s pursuit of a state takeover.
The workers at the Taj, however, remained loud as they marched on the Boardwalk outside the casino and in front of the elephant statues on the street side. Although they are at odds with the company right now, some believe they can work with it to bring the Taj Mahal back to its former glory.
“We think this property needs to be repolished,” said Marc Scittina, a worker who was authorized to speak to the media. “We want to be a part of that. We want to be a part of the rebuilding of the Taj.”
Inside the casino, overnight guests experienced a closed buffet and limited service as they made their way to the beach Saturday.
“I vacuumed the room myself,” said Tina Mongelli, an overnight guest. “Besides that, there’s not much difference. There’s limited staff cleaning the rooms.”
Trump Taj Mahal in May reported a $5.2 million decline in gambling revenue, down 7 percent from the same month in 2015. Its total win for the month was $15.1 million, ranking it next to last among the city’s eight brick-and-mortar casino operations. Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa leads the city at $61 million.
Meanwhile, workers at nearby Showboat Atlantic City were cleaning windows, vacuuming rugs and sweeping ahead of the hotel’s planned reopening Friday.
“It’s looking good inside. We’re just doing the finishing touches,” said Maria Hernandez, who was rehired at Showboat after working there from 1995 until it closed in 2014. “We have the jobs, and we’re not complaining.”