ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Unable to reach new contracts with the Atlantic City casinos, the city's main casino workers union will begin picketing outside one of them Wednesday.
Local 54 of the Unite Here union said Tuesday its members will form a picket line on the Boardwalk in front of the Tropicana casino Wednesday evening.
Contracts with the nine Atlantic City casinos were set to expire at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, and by midday Tuesday it was clear that no breakthrough was likely to happen in talks with two of the largest casino companies: Caesars Entertainment, which owns Caesars, Harrah's and Tropicana, and MGM Resorts International, which owns the city's leading property, the Borgata.
“We're looking forward to our action Wednesday night,” said union president Bob McDevitt. “We have a long way to go before we get a contract. We're not far enough down the road for me to give you any kind of a prediction yet.”
MGM declined comment; representatives of Caesars did not respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday.
The union's members would have to vote on whether to authorize a strike before a walkout could occur. McDevitt said such a vote has not yet been scheduled.
The union went on strike in 2004 for 34 days, and walked out against the former Trump Taj Mahal casino in July 2016, which ended with the casino shutting down in October of that year. It has since reopened under different ownership as the Hard Rock.
The union has been negotiating for over a month, seeking what it termed “significant” pay raises in a new deal, though it has not publicly specified the percentage increase it is seeking.
The goal is to keep workers from falling behind in an economy where labor shortages are increasing salaries in other industries, yet inflation is eating away at consumers’ purchasing power.
The emphasis on higher wages represents a switch for the union, which over the decades has prioritized comprehensive health insurance and pensions over big pay raises.
McDevitt said the casino industry is showing strength in the third year of the pandemic, aided by strong performances in the internet gambling and sports betting industries. Last year, according to the state Division of Gaming Enforcement, the casinos won over $4.2 billion in combined casino, online and sports betting revenue.
But casino executives have long said the online and sports betting revenue streams are not what they seem because the casinos only keep about 30% of that money, with the rest going to third-party providers.
They argue that money won from in-person gamblers on their premises is a truer indication of the health of the industry. Last year’s in-person revenue figure was $2.5 billion, which is below the level of 2019, before the pandemic hit.
Earlier this month the union released a survey of 1,934 of its members that showed 61% reported struggling to pay their rent or mortgage on time in the past year; 32% reported they lacked money for food, 37% lacked enough for for utilities, and 27% for transportation.
On its Facebook page, the union posted testimonials from workers who say they are working harder yet falling behind. Teresa Lopez, who works at Caesars, said, “We clean more check-outs each shift with less housekeepers. I'm working six days a week with mandatory overtime.
“Enough is enough,” she said. “We deserve better. The casinos are making their money; now it's our turn.”
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