Union goes on strike against Trump Taj Mahal casino

Trump Entertainment / MGN

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) – Striking union members chanted, banged drums and blew whistles as part of a raucous picket line outside the Trump Taj Mahal casino Friday amid a contract dispute with owner and billionaire investor Carl Icahn at the start of the busiest weekend of the year for the casino industry.

Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union was unable to reach a new contract with the Taj Mahal, which terminated workers’ health insurance and pension benefits nearly two years ago.

About 1,000 members began walking off the job at 6 a.m., joining fellow union members in protest on the Boardwalk. The striking workers include those who serve drinks, cook food, carry luggage and clean hotel rooms. Dealers and security personnel are not included in the walkout.

By 10 a.m. about 300 workers were walking the picket line, with more joining as their shifts ended. Casino management ordered striking employees to remove their cars from the parking garage, and security officials filmed the protests from a balcony.

The Taj Mahal – which remained open for business – was the only one of the five casinos targeted by the union that was unable to reach a new deal on Thursday. Contract talks broke off early Friday morning.

Picketers chanted: “All day and all night, Local 54 on strike!” and “We don’t get no contract, you don’t get no peace!”

It was not immediately clear whether the Taj Mahal planned to press management into service, hire temporary replacement workers, or some combination of both.

The casino enraged its unionized workers during its most recent spin through bankruptcy court in October 2014 when it got a judge to allow it to cancel health and pension benefits, deeming them unaffordable to the struggling casino.

Chuck Baker, a cook at the casino since the day it opened in 1990 and a member of the negotiating committee, said Taj Mahal management offered to restore some level of health care late Thursday, but the union rejected it as inadequate.

“We feel as if we have been mistreated and taken for granted long enough,” he said. “The time is now to take it to the streets.”

Picketers booed loudly when a young man entered the casino shortly after the strike began, but they made no attempt to block access. As the morning wore on, security officials held open doors to the casino farther down the Boardwalk, allowing patrons to enter without having to cross union picket lines outside the main entrance.

The Taj Mahal was opened and once run by Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. But the bankruptcy filing and the benefit terminations happened five years after Trump relinquished control of the casino and its parent company, Trump Entertainment Resorts, that carried his name.

Aside from a 10 percent stake in the company for the use of his name that was wiped out in bankruptcy, Trump has had no involvement with the company since 2009.

On Thursday, the union struck deals with three casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment (Bally’s, Caesars, and Harrah’s) as well as the Tropicana, which, like the Taj Mahal, is owned by Icahn.

Icahn kept the Taj Mahal afloat during its bankruptcy and took it over in March. He repeatedly threatened to withdraw financial support for the casino and force it to close if faced with restoring health and pension benefits.

Icahn did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.

The company gave union members a cash stipend to buy health care on the private market or through the government-run Affordable Care Act, but many say it does not come close to the actual cost of obtaining insurance.

The last time Local 54 waged a strike, in 2004, the walkout lasted 34 days.

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