Sweeney Rejects Billionaire’s Offer for Taj Mahal

By Brenda Flanagan

“I can say this publicly: You’re getting nothing from us,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

That double-barreled shot across the bow — from Sweeney aimed at Carl Icahn. The multi-billionaire offered to rescue the Taj Mahal from bankruptcy, but made demands: union casino workers must give up their pensions and health care plans.

“Atlantic City is going through some very troubling times right now and we acknowledge that. But it’s not the time for billionaires like Mr. Icahn to put their foot on the throats of workers and try to take their benefits,” Sweeney said.

“I’m not willing to give up my health care,” said casino worker Ruth Ann Joyce.

But Icahn looms large on the boardwalk here. He bought the troubled Tropicana out of bankruptcy and turned it around.

And he holds the debt for the recently-closed, bankrupt Trump Plaza — asked those workers to give up their health care, too.

Icahn also holds $276 million of the struggling Taj Mahal’s debt — says he’ll buy it — but wants millions in tax breaks from the city and state.

“When a multi-billionaire tries to balance his books off the backs of hourly hospitality employees by taking away their health benefits, it’s time to say enough is enough,” said Assemblyman Chris Brown.

Local 54’s president says they’ve got what’s called a “most favored employer” clause in the contract. He says that means any concessions that they make to Taj — like no health care — becomes an option for every casino in town.

“So what Mr. Icahn is trying to negotiate is the complete decimation of health care and retirement in the area,” said Unite Here Local 54 President Bob McDevitt.

Mayor Don Guardian says he’s not giving any tax breaks to Icahn.

“We’re very happy to have a lot of guys who own casinos and make money but they’ve got to share that with the people that are making the money for them,” Guardian said.

Icahn replied today in a letter saying he “…would like to see Atlantic City saved but to accomplish this investors have got to believe they have a chance. Today, obviously this is not the case.” Icahn wasn’t at the table for union negotiations at Taj this afternoon and parent company Trump Entertainment had no comment. But workers say he’s pulling the strings.

When asked if he felt a little bit desperate, Bill Brown said, “Yes I do, because we don’t know if this guy’s gonna wake up tomorrow and say, ‘You know what? We’re closed.'”

Casino workers staged a last ditch protest this week, blocking traffic into the city. If Taj closes, it’d be the fifth casino to fold this year, though Revel’s new owner expects to reopen it as a casino. Taj has a date in bankruptcy court next week.