In Atlantic City, tension at the Taj Mahal has been kicked up a notch. Ever since a federal judge allowed its parent company to cut workers’ pensions and benefits to save money, the enmity between owner Carl Icahn and Local 54 of the casino workers union has escalated. And now the workers have authorized a strike. Local 54 UNITE HERE Spokesman Ben Begleiter told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams that casino workers are ready to fight for what they believe, but leadership is still willing to negotiate.
Eighty percent of workers voted to authorize a strike. Begleiter said it’s been a long process. “There have been a series of complaints issued by the National Labor Relations Board about unfair labor practices and then of course there’s the stripping of pensions and health benefits, even paid lunch breaks from the workers that have led to the workers to be incensed and that led to yesterday’s vote with a 4-to-1 margin,” he said.
A bankruptcy judge approved the stripping of pensions and health benefits, but Begleiter said that decision is under appeal and it “doesn’t exempt Trump from the responsibility of negotiating a fair contract with the workers.”
The casino workers’ vote authorized the negotiating committee — comprised of about 65 members of the Taj Mahal — to determine if it’s appropriate to strike and call for one then.
Restoring health benefits is the most important issue for the workforce, according to Begleiter. “They’ve been stripped of those and a recent survey that we did with the membership showed that 44 percent of them don’t have any medical insurance, or didn’t have it at the time we did the survey. And another 23 percent were relying on government subsidies to have health benefits,” he said. “The casino industry’s different from other industries in that it’s the only one that the citizens of this state voted on to allow. They voted for it because there was a promise that there would be good jobs associated with casinos.”
While Begleiter said nobody wants to strike, he said workers are prepared to endure short-term pain for long-term benefits. “The workers at the Taj Mahal called for a boycott of their property months and months ago. And back in 2004, those workers struck because they understood that to not strike was to go down a road where their health benefits would become more and more and more expensive,” he said.
When asked if there is still hope for compromise with Icahn, Begleiter said, “We’re always hopeful. Our workers are very angry and ready to fight. But we’re willing to sit and negotiate at any time.”