Hillary Clinton Visits Striking Trump Taj Mahal Workers in Atlantic City
Workers cheered. The press swarmed. The Secret Service yelled at people to get on the sidewalk.
After her rally in front of the closed Trump Plaza on Wednesday afternoon, Hillary Clinton made a quick stop at the entrance of the Trump Taj Mahal to greet striking workers. Clinton shook hands for about five minutes.
“Workers are on strike at the Trump Taj Mahal,” Clinton said. “And we should all support them.” (The casino union, which endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, removed his image from its window before Clinton’s visit.)
Clinton hit Donald Trump hard in her speech on the boardwalk, but in reality he hasn’t been involved in Atlantic City for a long time. The closed casino she stood in front of was out of Trump’s hands when it shuttered in September 2014. The Trump Taj Mahal, the lone casino bearing Trump’s name that remains in Atlantic City, merely has an agreement to use his name.
And the strike at the Taj going on by UNITE HERE Local 54 is a dispute between workers and casino owner Carl Icahn (who has said electing Trump is a “no-brainer”). Union head Bob McDevitt and Icahn have been arguing through open letters and protest marches for at least 18 months. The union had threatened to walk out at five casinos before the July 4th holiday weekend this year, but ultimately reached agreements with Caesars, Bally’s, Harrah’s and the Tropicana (also owned by Icahn).
“We thank Hillary Clinton for joining us in our fight for good jobs not only in Atlantic City, but across the United States,” McDevitt said today. “One thousand workers from the Trump Taj Mahal are on strike to keep their middle-class jobs from an investor hell-bent on destroying them. Donald Trump and Carl Icahn have done everything they can to suck money out of the property at the expense of the people who do the work.”
The fight at the Taj is primarily over cost-of-living increases and health care. The union says many workers at the Taj have only seen raises of 80 cents over the past 12 years. Housekeepers and servers at the Taj Mahal earn an average of less than $12 an hour.
“The result of Trump Taj Mahal being used as a cash cow for short-term investment gain is that now half of the workers at the Trump Taj Mahal are forced to rely on subsidized health insurance; a third have no health insurance at all, forcing taxpayers to pay for visits to the emergency room,” McDevitt said. “Few can spend any extra income to support Atlantic City’s economy.”
Icahn gained control of the company in February of this year after becoming its principal creditor by buying up its debt at a deep discount. In that deal that gave Icahn the casino, Donald Trump’s remaining 10 percent stake was wiped out. Icahn, who also gained control of the Tropicana in a similar manner, has said he would invest $100 million in the property if he reached labor peace with the UNITE HERE union.
“Although both Atlantic City and the Taj have had a few tough years, today marks the beginning of the turnaround,” Icahn said at the time. “Just a few years ago Tropicana was in bankruptcy and its fate uncertain, but since emerging in 2010, we have turned that property around and it has become one of Atlantic City’s few success stories. I am confident we can and will do the same for the Taj.”
Icahn has not responded publicly to McDevitt’s taunts in recent months, but has written open letters to McDevitt and Taj workers in the past. “As you know, this is a bad investment for me at this time, evidenced by the fact that no one else is willing to invest even a dime,” Icahn wrote in an open letter in 2014. He addressed Taj workers last year: “UNITE HERE is a driving force behind a dysfunctional system that enriches those in power to the detriment of its own members. … Unfortunately, it seems that you continue to believe the many lies your union leadership keeps telling you, even though it is obvious that the union leadership uses your capital to enrich themselves.”
Workers today at the Taj pounded drums and chanted anti-Icahn slogans before and after Clinton made her appearance to shake hands with them. “We don’t want him,” Charlie Baker of UNITE HERE Local 54 said of Icahn. “He just happens to be our boss.”
McDevitt, the head of Local 54, was even tougher on Icahn, who Trump has said could be his Treasury Secretary.
“The guy Trump wants running our economy has used bankruptcy to eliminate good jobs and benefits for workers instead of investing in them in a way that could help Atlantic City’s economy recover,” he said. “As the sole principal creditor between 2010 and 2014, Carl Icahn extracted $350 million from the property, driving it into bankruptcy and then swooping in to take control. He used the bankruptcy proceeding to strip Taj Mahal workers of health benefits and retirement security. Trump’s name on the building is a clear endorsement of this strip-mining.”
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