ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP)
Atlantic City's casinos workers are preparing themselves for a possible strike against most of the city's gambling halls that would hit just as the Fourth of July weekend approaches.
Members of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union began voting Thursday morning on whether to authorize a strike against Bally's, Caesars, Harrah's and the Tropicana. The union has already authorized a strike against the Trump Taj Mahal.
If the union votes yes -- and each of nearly a dozen workers interviewed at the polling place said they voted to approve a strike -- members would walk out July 1 if contracts are not reached with the five casinos.
The remaining three -- Borgata, Golden Nugget and Resorts -- have been given an indefinite extension by the union, which says talks with them have been making progress.
The union says workers made painful sacrifices that need to be reversed now that Atlantic City's casinos are regaining their financial footing.
"To me the most insulting thing is that in 2011, this union gave up part of its package to help the casinos when they were struggling," union president Bob McDevitt said.
The vote comes at a precarious point in Atlantic City's future as it just begins to stabilize from the loss of four of its 12 casinos in 2014, grapples with a $100 million budget shortfall and tries to fight off both a state takeover and the prospect of in-state competition from two proposed casinos in the northern part of the state.
"These five employers clearly are not in touch with what their employees are feeling," McDevitt said. "What is happening at the table is an insult. The day before a strike vote, Tropicana offered a five-year wage freeze. The day before!"
Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, which runs the Tropicana and the Taj Mahal, said the company has invested $160 million at the Tropicana since 2011.
"Our employees have benefited from increased hours, increased gratuities and job security while 33 percent of the market's 12 casinos have been forced to close and thousands have lost their jobs," he said. "It should also be noted that since emerging from bankruptcy in 2010, current ownership has not withdrawn one penny of investment from Tropicana Atlantic City while continuing to risk millions in an uncertain market."
Kevin Ortzman, president of Caesars and Bally's, said parent company Caesars Entertainment's "goal remains to negotiate a fair resolution to keep our employees at work for their sake and to continue supporting Atlantic City's revitalization, which has our full commitment."
Irma Dominguez, a housekeeper at Harrah's for 24 years, said she's ready to walk out if necessary.
"Since 2004, I've only gained 80 cents an hour on my salary," she said. "In 2011, we gave them back a week of vacation to help keep them in business. Now that they're making money, we want that back. We deserve it."
Elaine Malloy, a cocktail server at Bally's, called the casinos' current offer "horrendous."
"They're not willing to give anything back that they needed from us in 2011, when we agreed to help them," she said. Remaining on the job under current conditions would be almost as financially difficult as going out on strike, she said.
Voting was due to end around 8pm.