At around 5:00 a.m. on Friday, July 1, 2016, UNITE HERE’s union members employed by the Trump Taj Mahal were sent a mass text message by their Local 54 representatives. They were informed of the initiation of a strike against the Atlantic City casino hotel, and told not to walk off the job at 6:00 a.m., or if already home, don’t bother going into work that day.
Now, edging towards their fourth week, negotiations have failed to get workers back on the job. Yesterday, the city’s leading workers’ union fortified its efforts by calling in reinforcements. Local 54 held a rally that saw members come from all over New Jersey and neighboring states – as far as Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington – to surround the Trump Taj Mahal with a projected crowd of near 1,000 picketers.
The presiding issues for employees of the Atlantic City casino hotel – which include a multitude of positions ranging from cooks and beverage servers, to hotel maintenance workers and luggage handlers – revolve primarily around the loss of pension and health care benefits. The union is fighting on their behalf to get those benefits restored.
Local 54 also entered negotiations with four other Atlantic City casinos, and were able to come to agreements with each of them. Trump Taj Mahal, on the other hand, has been unwilling to compromise, and on Monday withdrew a level health plan offer that was previously rejected by the union, being well below the workers’ original benefits.
“We’re going into the fourth week of this strike, and it’s time for the labor community to come together and show its strength,” said Local 54 President Bob McDevitt. “This property is crippled. The longer this company refuses to meet the standards of a decent contract, the more damage is done to the customer base, which will find new homes, as they are doing already. The longer this goes on, the more it hurts the company.”
Trump Taj Mahal was originally opened in 1990 by current Presidential nominee Donald Trump, who dissolved his presence from the brand in 2009. In 2014, Trump Entertainment Resorts received the approval from the court system to terminate all of its employees’ pension and health care benefits on grounds that they were no longer affordable in today’s casino market.
Mr. Trump’s friend and fellow business magnate, Carl Icahn, rescued the Atlantic City casino from bankruptcy earlier this year by purchasing the property from Trump Entertainment Resorts and investing millions more into sustaining its operations. But Icahn made no move to reinstate any of those benefits, similarly arguing that they were too expensive. In fact, he threatened to close down the casino if a judge ruled in favor of reinstating benefits for workers.
Pete Battaglini, who’s been employed as a bellman with Trump Taj Mahal since April 2, 1990 – the day the casino first opened its doors to the public – confirmed that he and his fellow employees want to get back to work, but are unwilling to do so without a fair deal from the Atlantic City casino.
“All we want is the same contract every other casino has. I’m ready to get back to work. I want to work; we all do,” said Battaglini. “But we won’t do it without a fair contract.”