By Brenda Flanagan
“With the stroke of a pen, we’ve gone from middle class jobs in this city to working poor,” said Taj Mahal waitress Valerie McMorris.
Casino employees expressed outrage after a federal bankruptcy judge in Delaware ruled Trump Entertainment can stop paying for worker health care and pensions at Taj Mahal. A Trump attorney reportedly said their health coverage will end on Oct. 31st — Halloween — which opens the door for multi-millionaire Carl Icahn’s offer to buy the financially beleaguered casino.
“The judge is siding with them. At the end of the day this is just a page out of Carl Icahn’s book. This is what he does, tries to destroy people’s lives, destroy their benefits, destroy their retirement and he gains wealth from that,” said Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 Unite Here.
Lawyers for Taj argued without those concessions, the casino would close by mid-November. Trump Entertainment CEO Robert Griffin said, “We are proud of our efforts to keep the Taj Mahal open, to deliver our loyal customers a continued first-class gaming experience and to have the ability to save 3,000 jobs in a very difficult Atlantic City economy.
“You promised us good jobs, pay, salary pensions and benefits – and now you wanna eliminate all that,” said Charles Baker, a cook at Taj Mahal.
“This is Carl Icahn’s waterloo — he’s got himself into a fight he won’t win,” McDevitt said.
The Taj drama fits Atlantic City’s narrative this year. Casinos will remember 2014 as the year they rolled snake eyes. By September, analysts say, an over-saturated market forced 8,000 job cuts, four casino closures and massive self-correction. Tourists see the changes unfolding, with mixed reviews.
“It’s just a shame. I hate to see it happening,” said tourist Jodie Batz.
“I think it’s horrible. What they gonna do?” asked Elmira Johnson.
“I really think it’s the beginning of a new start. Maybe it just needed to be cleaned out and start fresh and I think this is a great opportunity for the city,” said tourist Irene Insignares.
A Steel Pier bartender serves her critique straight up.
“I worked in Vegas for 14 years. I know what they want. They want fun. And you have to make this town fun,” said Patricia Iannucci.
“What’s happening is that there’s been a considerable shift in what visitors do when they come to Atlantic City. They do not spend a lot of money — like they used to do — on the craps tables and blackjack tables or slots. Their spending has shifted to entertainment and dining. They come when there are huge festivals and huge events,” said Israel Posner, executive director of the Lloyd Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.
And now, Carl Icahn plays Monopoly on the boardwalk. He owns Trop, holds the debt on the defunct Trump Plaza and maneuvers for the Taj. Critics don’t faze him though unions and politicians condemn his tactics.
“I can say this publicly. You’re getting nothing from us,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
The judge saw it differently. Unions here used to be 50,000 strong. They’re struggling now. He calls Icahn a cowboy.
“He takes risks, he plays hard, as an investor. The greatest return on his investment is what he’s gunning for — whatever will give that company the best return,” said Posner.
Lawyers say Icahn sold old TVs and mattress over at the Plaza to raise a few bucks. What casino workers call “union busting” then Icahn might call maximizing his investment.