Atlantic City casinos are now at risk of a strike by thousands of employees following a vote by union members of Unite Here Local 54 on Wednesday night.
Members authorized their negotiating committee to call for a July 1 strike against Borgata and the three casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment — Caesars, Harrah’s, and Tropicana — and to call a strike on July 3 against Hard Rock unless new labor agreements are in place.
About 96% of union members voted in favor of the strike, according to union president Bob McDevitt. The membership includes housekeepers, bartenders, cocktail servers, and other workers.
“The industry better not take this lightly,” he told a ballroom of union members after the vote. “This is a no [B.S.] thing.”
Contracts between the union and the casinos expired more than two weeks ago, and negotiations have not borne fruit. Ocean and Bally’s, however, have reached “me-too” agreements to match whatever contract terms are reached by the city’s largest casinos.
The July 4 period typically is among the most popular at the island resort, which does by far its most business in mid-summer due to favorable weather and the traditional vacation season.
“We are fighting for economics across the board, for all job classifications,” said Ruth Ann Joyce, a bartender at the Harrah’s and Hard Rock casinos.
Union leaders say they are seeking significant wage increases in the next contract, since workers must deal with financial setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and rapidly-growing inflation.
“Historically, our fights have dealt with health care,” Joyce said, according to the AP report. “This go-round, it’s about economics. We can’t find workers because there’s no money, and it’s hard to hold onto the workers we do have because they can go somewhere else and make more.”
Rodney Mills, a housekeeper at Tropicana, said he is ready to strike if need be.
“Things are really hard right now,” he said Wednesday after casting his ballot at the Atlantic City Convention Center. “We need a livable wage to survive.”
Memories of an even worse time
Joyce formerly worked at the Showboat, which closed in 2014 along with Trump Plaza, Revel, and The Atlantic Club. Two years later, Trump Taj Mahal closed as well.
That cost the region more than 10,000 jobs as the casino supply dwindled from 12 to seven. In mid-2018, Hard Rock and Ocean opened in the refurbished shells of Trump Taj Mahal and Revel, respectively, boosting the casino number to nine.
While the pandemic closed all of the casinos for several months in the spring and early summer of 2020, the industry has bounced back since then and has been on target for a booming summer of business.
“At their peak, COVID-19 shutdowns laid off 98% of UNITE HERE members, who faced the hardships of COVID-19 with grit and determination. Together, we are fighting for a recovery where no one gets left behind. Local 54 members continue to fight for quality and affordable health care, a secure retirement, home ownership and college for their kids. Local 54 remains strong with a growing membership and thousands of active union members.”