Taj Mahal strike enters 2nd day over health care, pensions

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – A top manager for billionaire Carl Icahn says Atlantic City’s main casino workers’ union appears “hell-bent” on trying to shut down the Trump Taj Mahal casino as a strike against the struggling gambling hall enters its second day.

Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union went on strike Friday against the Taj Mahal, the casino opened by Donald Trump in 1990 but now owned by his friend, Icahn.

The main sticking point was the union’s demand that health care and pension plans for the casino’s 1,000 unionized workers that were terminated in bankruptcy court be restored. Icahn had offered to restore health care, but not to a level the union deemed acceptable.

So the casino now finds itself surrounded by chanting picketers during the busiest money-making weekend of the year for Atlantic City’s casinos.

Union president Bob McDevitt said no further talks are scheduled.

“The employees of the Taj (negotiating committee) seem hell-bent on trying to close this property and killing the jobs and livelihood of the other Taj employees including their own union members and members of other unions,” said Tony Rodio, who runs the Tropicana and the Taj Mahal for Icahn. “They are hurting their own and everybody else during the busiest time of the year.”

The union called the strike after being unable to agree on a contract that restored health care and pension benefits that a bankruptcy judge terminated in October 2014. It reached new contracts Thursday with four of the five casinos it had targeted: Bally’s, Caesars, Harrah’s and the Tropicana.

“All we want is a fair contract,” said Pete Battaglini, a bellman at the Taj Mahal. “We just want what everybody else in the city has. We’re not asking for the moon, just the same.”

Battaglini said paying for health insurance on his own through the Affordable Care Act has left him in dire financial straits.

“I have two daughters in college that I’m paying for, and having to pay for my own health insurance, it’s draining,” he said. “You have to make choices: Do I pay the bills this month, the health insurance premium or the tuition? It has totally changed my life.”

He was one of about 1,000 workers who began walking off the job at 6 a.m. Friday, joining fellow union members in protest on the Boardwalk. The striking workers include those who serve drinks, cook food, carry luggage and clean hotel rooms. Dealers and security personnel are not included in the walkout.

“Workers in Atlantic City understand that there was a social compact in 1976 when gaming was first approved for Atlantic City: We will give you a license to make money, but the jobs have to be good, middle-class jobs,” McDevitt said. “At the Taj Mahal, they’re poverty level.”

He noted that the Tropicana settled its contract Thursday.

“It’s telling that workers at the Trop are elated, and their co-workers at the Taj Mahal are on strike today,” he said. “I don’t understand why they do this.”

The casino pressed management into service on Friday, performing work that striking union members had done, including handling luggage at the hotel desk. Alan Rivin, the casino’s general manager, said the Taj Mahal “is open for business and fully functional,” ready to serve guests through the busy July Fourth weekend.

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.

Aside from a 10 per cent stake in the company for the use of his name that was wiped out in bankruptcy, 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.


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