Workers authorize strike at Trump Taj Mahal

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Workers at Trump Taj Mahal have authorized a strike against the troubled Atlantic City casino as they await a federal appeals court ruling on whether the casino must restore health insurance and pension benefits that it scrapped last year.

Members of UNITE HERE Local 54, which represents nearly 1,000 service workers including bartenders, cooks, housekeepers and bellmen - but not casino dealers - voted Thursday to allow the union's negotiating committee to call a strike, if they feel it's necessary.

The union's last contract expired in September 2014.

Trump Entertainment Resorts owns the property now, but lender Carl Icahn is taking ownership as it comes out of bankruptcy. Last year, the casino ended pension and health insurance for its unionized workers. That decision has been the center of litigation that's now being contemplated by the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

Icahn has said he'll cut off funding and close the casino if courts force the restoration of benefits.

"Carl Icahn may have thought that workers in Atlantic City would turn a blind eye to his abusing the employees at the Taj. He may have thought that Taj employees would have just been happy to have a job, but this vote shows that the men and women at the Taj are ready to fight to defend the kind of jobs that were promised when gaming was legalized - jobs with good pay and good benefits, in a workplace where everyone is treated fairly," Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54, said in a statement Friday.

The union won't give the vote tally but said the majority of the bargaining unit cast ballots and that the authorization won by a 4 to 1 margin.

Trump Entertainment Resorts spokeswoman Kathleen McSweeney said in a statement from the company that many workers opposed the strike authorization and accused the union of an action that would "jeopardize employees' wages and tips during a peak income period." The company said there's a plan for staffing the casino in the case of a strike.

The strike authorization was the first against an Atlantic City casino since the industry's major downturn amid growing competition in neighboring states and the Great Recession. Last year, four of the city's casinos closed, leaving just eight.

The last authorization preceded a 34-day strike against seven casinos in 2004.

Icahn's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.