Casino Workers Ready to Strike Over Benefits

September 16, 2015 | Politics
Trump Taj Mahal workers are on the verge of striking following comments from Tropicana Owner Carl Icahn over benefits

By Michael Hill

Paul Smith has been a cook at the Trump Taj Mahal for 21 years and he’s ready to strike after the Taj eliminated his and other Local 54 union workers’ health care and pension benefits last year.

“Recently it’s been hell. It’s been a living hell in there. They’ve taken away our benefits, they’ve taken away our pension, our breaks. They’ve basically stole $18,000 per person inside there,” Smith said.

Local 54 has been unsuccessful in challenging the cuts in court. Over the holiday weekend, the union put illuminated “Boycott Taj” signs on the boardwalk after a judge ordered it to stop shining “shame on” the Taj’s building.

“Hopefully, it has a very profound impact to show Carl Icahn we mean business,” he said.

In July, the Taj’s unionized workers voted to authorize a strike any day now. They want Wall Street billionaire and Tropicana owner Carl Icahn – who’s taking over the Taj as it emerges from bankruptcy – to restore their benefits. Icahn has not returned NJTV News’ phone calls.

Icahn has said to have medical and pension benefits for employees — to unionize 1,000 workers — is not sustainable.

“Corporate greed. You got one of the richest men in the country playing real life monopoly with the employees of the Taj Mahal,” Smith said.

“It’s sustainable at Borgata. It’s sustainable at Golden Nugget that has turned around. It’s sustainable all across America,” said Distinguished Professor of Economics at Stockton University Deb Figart.

“Because what we’re selling in the casino industry is an experience, it’s important to have employees engaged in that experience and who feel valued by their employees because they enhance the experience that the customers have,” said Ellen Mutari, an Economics Professor at Stockton University.

Mutari and Figart have written the book “Just One More Hand – Life in the Casino Economy.” They contend the Taj’s cost-cutting could have a domino effect.

“If the casinos survive by cost-cutting, but the employees don’t thrive then it’s not going to be helpful for the local community,” said Mutari.

“Look, Atlantic County is already the foreclosure capital of the United States. We don’t want to make it worse,” said Figart.

The Taj’s owner – Trump Entertainment Resorts – has a strike contingency plan but a senior VP told NJTV News, “There is no strike and although they have been threatening one for months, we do not believe they have the support and that’s why there has been no strike.”

But, workers say the casino and Icahn shouldn’t roll the dice on that.

“He proclaims that he’s fighting for the little guy. Well, I’m the little guy but he keeps knocking me down,” said Smith.

Hard hit Atlantic City braces for the possibility of labor strife becoming a strike.