Day 3 of Taj Mahal casino strike: Still no talks scheduled

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Just after midnight on a typical Sunday, John McLaughlin would be preparing for a shift bartending at a lounge at Atlantic City’s Trump Taj Mahal casino.

Instead, the lights were on at the closed club on the casino floor Sunday morning and the stage was empty except for a silent drum kit, while McLaughlin was with a group of about 30 union members marching on the boardwalk outside as a strike entered its third day

Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union walked off the job against the Taj Mahal on Friday, unable to reach a contract that restores its members’ health insurance and pension plans. The former owners of the casino got a bankruptcy judge to cancel those benefits in 2014.

“I don’t mind it because it’s for a good cause. When somebody steals health benefits from young families with kids for 22 months I think that’s horrendous and outrageous,” said McLaughlin, who said he has worked as a bartender at the Taj since it was opened by Donald Trump in 1990.

The casino now belongs to Trump’s friend and fellow billionaire, Carl Icahn.

“Everyone is really motivated and really excited out here fighting Carl Icahn,” union President Bob McDevitt said as he walked with the protesters early Sunday morning. “They’re not counting the days right now. They just figure they’ll be here as long as they have to.”

Icahn’s management team has said the union seems “hell-bent on trying to close this property” and pointed out that he has spent $86 million keeping the Taj Mahal alive through bankruptcy.

Guests continued to come and go during the Fourth of July weekend, which is traditionally the busiest of the year for Atlantic City casinos. Gamblers continued playing the slots and table games early Sunday morning and some restaurants were open, while others were closed.

The casino’s website wasn’t accepting hotel room reservations through next week and an employee stationed at the front check-in desk said that no rooms were available through next week because of the striking workers.

Officials would not go into detail about their staffing arrangements during the strike. On strike include those that serve drinks, cook, transport luggage, clean rooms and more. Casino dealers and security are not part of the union striking.

The union said no further contract talks are scheduled.

While it still bears his name, Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has not owned it for years. The bankruptcy filing and the benefit terminations at the Taj Mahal happened five years after Trump relinquished control of the casino and its parent company, Trump Entertainment Resorts to bondholders in a previous bankruptcy.

Aside from a 10 per cent stake in the company for the use of his name that was wiped out in bankruptcy when Icahn took over in March, Trump has had no involvement with the company since 2009.

The last time Local 54 waged a strike, in 2004, the walkout lasted 34 days.