Contracts expired, casino workers’ union to picket at Atlantic City’s Tropicana

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Unable to secure new deals with Atlantic City’s casinos, the city’s largest casino union will begin picketing one of them on Wednesday.

Local 54 of the Unite Here union said Tuesday its members will form a picket line on the boardwalk in front of the Tropicana casino on Wednesday night.

The contracts with Atlantic City’s nine casinos expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and by midday Tuesday it was clear there would be no breakthrough in talks with two of the biggest casino companies, Caesars Entertainment, Caesars owner Harrah’s and Tropicana, and MGM Resorts International, which owns the city’s premier property, the Borgata.

“We look forward to our Wednesday night action,” said union chairman Bob McDevitt. “We still have a long way to go before we get a contract. We’re not ready for me to make any predictions for you.”

MGM declined to comment; Caesars officials did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.

Union members would have to vote on whether to authorize a strike before a strike could take place. McDevitt said such a vote is not yet planned.

The union went on strike for 34 days in 2004 and went on strike at the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino in July 2016, ending with the casino’s closure in October of that year. It has since reopened as Hard Rock among other owners.

The union has been negotiating what it calls a “significant” pay rise in a new deal for over a month, although it has not publicly stated the percentage increase it is aiming for.

The aim is to prevent workers from being left behind in an economy where labor shortages are raising wages in other sectors but inflation is eating away at consumers’ purchasing power.

The emphasis on higher wages marks a change for the union, which over the decades has prioritized comprehensive health insurance and pensions over big pay rises.

McDevitt said the casino industry is showing strength in the third year of the pandemic, helped by strong performances in the internet gaming and sports betting industries. Last year, casinos won over $4.2 billion in combined casino, online and sports betting revenue, according to the State Division of Gaming Enforcement.

But casino executives have long said that online and sports betting revenue streams are not what they seem because casinos only keep about 30% of that money, with the rest going to third-party providers.

They argue that money won by personal players on their premises is a true indication of the health of the industry. Personal sales last year were $2.5 billion, down from 2019 levels before the pandemic hit.

Earlier this month, the union released a survey of 1,934 of its members, showing that 61% said they had struggled to pay their rent or mortgage on time in the past year; 32% said they lacked money for groceries, 37% lacked money for utilities and 27% for transportation.

On its Facebook page, the union posted testimonials from workers saying they are working harder but still falling behind. Teresa Lopez, who works at Caesars, said, “We’re cleaning more registers with fewer housekeepers every shift. I work six days a week with mandatory overtime.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “We deserve better. The casinos make their money; now it is our turn.”

By WAYNE PARRY
Associated Press

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