About a thousand cooks, waiters, housekeepers, and other service workers at the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City walked off the job Friday after talks to negotiate a new contract failed.
Their union, Unite Here Local 54, is pushing for higher pay and the restoration of health and pension benefits that billionaire investor Carl Icahn cut after he acquired the casino from bankruptcy.
“These workers have gone 20 months with no health care, no pension, no paid meal break,” said Unite Here president Bob McDevitt. “I mean, a fast-food joint gives you a paid meal break.”
In a statement, Icahn Enterprises called the strike “extremely unfortunate” and said the company offered what it thought was a fair contract.
“They are hurting their own and everybody else during the busiest time of the year,” said Tony Rodio, president of Trump Entertainment Inc.
The company also claimed that Icahn had invested more than $86 million in the hotel and casino, but 20-year Taj Mahal employee Chuck Baker said the money went to all the wrong places.
“You know, they put in a new liquor store, new pool liner. They invested in the arena. They’re trying to get new shows. Opening all the restaurants,” said the shop steward. “But that will never be successful unless you take care of the working people here.”
And the working people at the Taj Mahal are not being taken care of, according to cook Mayra Gonzalez.
“We’ve been stressed. Morale is low, because people are stressed and anxious. And sick — they can’t afford to go to the doctor. So we’ve been waiting for this to happen.”
At the same time the strike began, so did the casino town’s busy Fourth of July weekend.
Natasha Apanah, who was visiting on vacation from New York, said she supported workers’ fight for a better contract, despite the interruption to business.
“They need to fight for what they believe in, so I’m all about this. Tough weekend. But they’ll get what they need to get,” she said.
No new contract talks are scheduled between the union and Taj Mahal management. Until then, McDevitt says the strike will go on.
“To be continued, man. This is the first day.”