With Just Days Until Deadline, Atlantic City Workers Preparing to Strike

The union president says a strike is “likely.” Employees at as many as five Atlantic City casinos could be walking out on July 1st.

Tropicana Casino, beach-side, in Atlantic City

The Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City. | Photo: Dan McQuade

Elaine Malloy has been a cocktail server at Bally’s for almost 26 years. She makes $8.99 an hour.

“It’s a disgrace to work at $8.99 an hour,” Malloy says, “and try to pay a mortgage, utility bills, clothing, college expenses. Everything in the economy goes up, but unfortunately my wage hasn’t.”

Malloy is a tipped employee, and she says she’s been able to survive on the “generosity of my customers.” But she says it’s hard to make a decent tip rate working at Bally’s because you’re always doing things that aren’t, officially, part of the job, like giving directions to attractions in the casino and the city.

“It’s a disgrace that, when over the years the casinos needed help,” Malloy says, “we the workers decided to give back over $1,500 to help them get out of the rut that they put themselves in. Now they need to help their workers.”

Malloy spoke on a conference call organized by UNITE HERE Local 54 just days until a union-imposed strike deadline of July 1st at five casinos in the New Jersey resort town: Trump Taj Mahal, Bally’s, Caesars, Tropicana and Harrah’s. UNITE HERE represents all the uniformed workers in Atlantic City with the exception of security, cage cashiers and dealers.

Union president Bob McDevitt says a strike is “likely” at some or all of the five Atlantic City casinos currently negotiating with UNITE HERE. McDevitt says union worker wages have been stagnant for the last five years, and workers gave up an average of between $1,300 and $1,500 in vacation, overtime and holiday pay in 2011 in order to help the casinos.

He had his strongest words for Caesars Entertainment, which owns Caesars, Harrah’s and Bally’s in Atlantic City. “Even though they chose to give their supervisors and managers $50 million in bonuses at a shareholders meeting,” McDevitt says, “they’ve been crying like little schoolgirls with a skinned knee about how much it’s going to cost to give people raises that haven’t had a raise in five years.”

McDevitt says the union has not set an official time when the strike would begin. They’re continuing to negotiate with the owners of the five casinos this week. The Tropicana is owned by Tropicana Entertainment, which also manages the Trump Taj Mahal. Icahn Enterprises, where billionaire Carl Icahn is chairman, owns the Taj and 65 percent of the Trop. McDevitt says the union is furthest away from an agreement with the Taj.

Per UNITE HERE, Harrah’s has about 1,300 unionized workers, while the Caesars, Bally’s and Tropicana have between 1,000 and 1,100. The Taj has about 950. The union voted to authorize a strike this week, with 96 percent of members voting yes. “The real fight here in Atlantic City is keeping the middle class working in the casino industry,” McDevitt says. “It’s really the casinos’ choice. If they want to put a bullshit contract on the table, then they’ll get a strike.”

Caesars Entertainment and Icahn Enterprises did not respond to requests for comment. A strike before the busy 4th of July weekend looms.

“Enough is enough, it’s time for a change,” says Daksha Parikh, a housekeeper at the Tropicana for 14 years. “We are ready for a strike.”

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