By Brenda Flanagan
When 1,000 cooks, housekeepers, servers and bartenders walked off the job at Taj Mahal more than a month ago, they promised to strike for as long as it took to get a fair contract. UNITE HERE Local 54 organized noisy, passionate picket lines and struck on July 1, at the start of the high season, applying financial pressure.
“It’s horrible. They left us no other option. This is the only thing they understand on a July 4 weekend when they could be making millions and millions of dollars,” said food server Al Kare last month. “They’re trying to step on our necks when we’re down.”
“They offered us a health plan that was just not even close to the health plan the other casinos have,” said UNITE HERE Local 54 President Bob McDevitt last month.
But the landscape shifted dramatically today, when management announced it would close the Taj Mahal after Labor Day weekend, noting, “Currently the Taj is losing multi-millions a month, and now with this strike we see no path to profitability.”
If Taj folds, it’d cut another operating casino out of Atlantic City’s boardwalk lineup — leaving only seven — and end the long and bitter struggle by Local 54 against Taj’s owner, billionaire investor Carl Icahn.
“How petty,” McDevitt said, calling Icahn, “…so one-dimensional. The great deal-maker would rather burn the Trump Taj Mahal down just so he can control the ashes. For a few million bucks he could have had labor peace and a content workforce, but instead he’d rather slam the door shut on these long-term workers just to punish them and attempt to break their strike.”
Icahn has threatened to close the Taj Mahal before, in the face of union objections. In October 2014, he got a federal judge’s approval to terminate workers’ health and pension benefits, despite pushback from politicians.
“Atlantic City is going through some very troubling times right now and we acknowledge that, but it’s not time for billionaires like Mr. Icahn to put their foot on the throats of workers and try to take their benefits,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney in October 2014.
That dark year — a contracting economy and oversaturated market — forced four casinos to close and plunged Atlantic City deep into financial crisis. This past June, four of the remaining eight casinos reached contract settlements with Local 54. The agreement breathed new life in Ceasar’s Entertainment Atlantic City properties, including Harrah’s, Caesars and Bally’s and Tropicana, but not with Taj. No new contract talks are scheduled.