Atlantic City Strike Threats All But Over

Only two casinos, neither of them a union target, have yet to accept new employee terms
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On Saturday night, Hard Rock Atlantic City casino officials agreed to a new labor agreement with the Unite Here Local 54 union, matching the ones reached two days earlier with Borgata and the three Caesars Entertainment casino properties, Caesars, Tropicana, and Harrah’s.

Bally’s and Ocean casinos had agreed before the strike threats to a “me too” deal in which they would accept whatever terms the union reached with other casinos.

So only Golden Nugget and Resorts are not yet on board at the conclusion of July 4th weekend — but union officials have said they expect agreements there imminently. The two casinos notably were placed in a “yellow zone” last week, while the five casinos that just struck a deal had been relegated to “red zone” status before the new agreements were reached.

The settlements are welcome news for Atlantic City, which has had two summers of COVID-impacted lesser earnings, but which now is nearly full speed ahead for what could be its biggest summer of gaming revenue in many years.

“We are extremely pleased that we were once again able to reach a successful settlement with Unite Here Local 54 to increase wages and benefits for our deserving team members,” Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said in a statement. “We look forward to further expanding this excellent relationship at both the national and local levels as we expand our iconic brand.”

The last casino strike to take place in Atlantic City was in 2016, when the same union rejected concessions demanded by Trump Taj Mahal owner Carl Icahn. He then shuttered the casino, leading to thousands of worker layoffs in the fifth casino closing in the city in two years — only for the property to be gutted and rebranded into the Hard Rock casino that opened in mid-2018.

The most infamous strike in the city’s history took place in 1986, when more than 10,000 workers walked off the job and dozens of arrests and an equal number of injuries occurred before labor peace was reached.

Raises for everybody

Bob McDevitt, the union president, called the deals “the best contract we’ve ever had. We got everything we wanted and everything we needed. The workers delivered a contract that they can be proud of for years to come.”

“I’m super excited,” Ronnette Lark, a housekeeper at Harrah’s, told the Associated Press. “I’ve been here 24 years and we’ve never gotten a raise like this. We got big raises.”

Terms have not yet been revealed, but the economic atmosphere was conducive to settlements. The casinos stayed afloat during the pandemic thanks to the booming business of online casino gaming, which spiked when the brick-and-mortar casinos had to close their doors. The casinos collect about one-third of that revenue while third-party operators actually run the gaming.

The casinos also got “leaner” out of necessity during the pandemic, figuring out how to provide satisfactory customer service with several thousand fewer employees industry-wide.

Additionally, the national labor shortage meant that replacements for striking workers would have been very hard to find. The casinos held a job fair just last month to try to fill more than 1,000 full-time jobs and a similar number of part-time ones as well.

But now the coast is almost completely clear for a big summer ahead.

The deals also remove the specter of a potential public relations disaster. The annual NAACP convention, which typically is held in larger cities such as San Diego and Detroit, is coming to Atlantic City on July 14-20. City officials consider it a key opportunity to put a best foot forward and possibly attract other major conventions.

Photo: Shutterstock
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