The main union representing casino workers in Atlantic City is warning that “labor disputes” could occur if New Jersey’s nine gaming venues do not agree to new contracts by a May 31 deadline, the date on which they are set to expire.
“A labor dispute is possible with an employer if a new contract is not settled or extended by that date,” Local 54 of the Unite Here union says on a new website called actravelalert.org. The site works as a service for convention planners and travelers who need to know whether labor disputes could affect their Atlantic City plans.
All Atlantic City casinos –Bally’s, Borgata, Caesars, Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, Harrah’s, Ocean, Resorts, Tropicana– will have expired contracts starting May 31, meaning they could all potentially face labor disputes if new agreements are not reached.
In a FAQ section on its new website, the casino workers’ union responds to the question of how long a labor dispute may last by citing a 2016 example. At the time, employees at the Taj Mahal Casino went on strike and held continuous picket lines for 102 days. The venue ultimately closed its doors to the public and reopened under Hard Rock ownership in June 2018.
Such a scenario would impose a challenging situation on Atlantic City, as the move would come at the start of what will be a crucial season for its casino industry. But workers in the destination city see this as the moment to build “a movement to enable people of all backgrounds to achieve greater equality and opportunity,” according to the new website.
“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,” the union said in a statement. “Local 54 remains strong with a growing membership and thousands of active union members.”
Bob McDevitt, the union’s president
Earlier this month, the union said it is seeking “significant” wage increases in the upcoming contracts to help its members recover from the financial harm caused by the pandemic and ongoing inflation, reports Associated Press. However, the statement did not specify the amount of increase sought.
The opening of the new website has been described as a move that puts pressure on the casinos, at the risk of harming the atmosphere during ongoing talks. The site also offers potential Atlantic City visitors a list of other hotels that could be an alternative to casino resorts.
“We’re not threatening anybody,” said Bob McDevitt, the union’s president, according to the cited source. “But we’re very serious about leveraging whatever we need to leverage to get our members a good contract.” Executives representing Atlantic City casinos have yet to respond to the union’s tactic.
Associated Press’ report further claims Local 54 is currently negotiating with Caesars Entertainment, which owns Caesars, Harrah’s and the Tropicana venues; and MGM Resorts International, which owns the Borgata.
The union has reportedly reached agreements with the Ocean Casino Resort and Bally’s to abide by the terms of the contract negotiated by the two larger casino companies, union president McDevitt further told the news source.
He further said Caesars and MGM “need to be reminded” of what can happen during a labor dispute in Atlantic City, including a strike, citing the aforementioned Taj Mahal case. “The reality is there are very few people at Caesars and no one at MGM that has any kind of institutional knowledge of what a conflict can be like here,” McDevitt said. “They need to know what could be coming.”
The negotiations come as Atlantic City casinos finally leave the worst days of the pandemic behind. Last month, the nine venues collectively surpassed the level of in-person gambling revenue they had before Covid-19 started, winning $235 million from in-person gamblers, above the $207 million won from this segment in April 2019.
Last month, the union that represents casino dealers in Atlantic City called on New Jersey lawmakers to prohibit smoking in casinos in the popular tourism destination, thus backing a casino smoking ban proposal that has been gaining momentum in the legislature as of late.
In a letter to state legislators, United Auto Workers (UAW) asked them to hold hearings on legislation that would close a loophole in state law, which eliminated smoking in all New Jersey workplaces sixteen years ago while specifically exempting casinos and simulcasting facilities. The letter speaks on behalf of workers at Caesars, Bally’s and Tropicana.
The letter followed efforts earlier in April by hundreds of casino workers united under the group Casino Employees Against Smoking’s (Harmful) Effects (C.E.A.S.E.), who called on state Lawmakers to introduce the ban as part of a massive rally during the anniversary week of the original Smokefree Air Act.