ATLANTIC CITY — More than 10,000 casino and hospitality employees will have the opportunity Friday to vote for union leadership, and the choice is between two familiar tickets.
Bob McDevitt, president of UNITE HERE Local 54 since 1996, is being challenged by Al Tabei for control of the labor union that represents nearly one-third of casino workers in Atlantic City.
The two men have squared off in four previous union elections, the most recent in 2016, and there is no love lost between them.
McDevitt, 57, characterized Tabei as an opportunist who has not participated in union activities, including the 2016 workers’ strike that lead to the eventual closing of the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort.
“This man, in 15 years of running, has never done anything to support any fight that we’ve had in the union, up to and including the Taj Mahal strike,” McDevitt said of his challenger. “He’s nonexistent.”
Tabei, 67, contends that McDevitt has done little to improve the quality of employment for union members, pointing to a reduction in the number of full-time jobs, health benefits and pension security.
“Twenty-five years is too many years for anyone to be president of the union,” said Tabei. “We believe the time is here to put a stop to that.”
Underlining the verbal sparring between the two candidates is an industry that saw total gaming revenue cut in half over the course of a decade, the number of casino properties reduced and employment numbers shrink.
McDevitt said the past 10 years has been spent “responding to that and trying to meet the needs of the members while dealing with an industry that was imploding.”
Tabei said Local 54’s leadership has failed to adequately represent members through the difficult times and was, instead, more concerned with “advancing personal agendas.”
“For the past 25 years, under Bob McDevitt’s leadership, apart from setting the members back 30 years by giving away nearly 80 percent of what we used to have, the union has been standing by, doing nothing, while the companies have violated the collective bargaining agreement,” said Tabei. “The sense is that it is absolutely time for change.”
In the last three years, total gaming has started to increase, two new casino properties opened and, for the first time in almost five years, the industry is employing more than 30,000 people.
“Working in the capacity of serving the members here is a real honor for me,” said McDevitt. “And, having gone through the decade of terrible times, it’s really exciting to start thinking about growth and prosperity again.”
McDevitt is running at the top of the ticket with the union’s current Vice President Javier Soto and Secretary-Treasurer Donna DeCaprio. Tabei is running with Laurie Benninghoven as a vice presidential candidate and Frank Viering as secretary-treasurer.
The timing of this year’s election is important for the casino workers’ union since the industry’s collective bargaining agreement is set to be renegotiated next year for all nine of the Atlantic City casino properties.
Although workers at Ocean Casino Resort have not yet voted to become Local 54 members, the expectation is that they will before the 2020 industry-wide bargaining begins.
Employees of Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City — which opened at the site of the shuttered Taj Mahal in June 2018 — recently voted in favor of unionizing.
Voting is open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the Atlantic City Convention Center on May 10.