Casino Strike in Atlantic City Lingers With No End in Sight (NYTimes 10.31.04)
- Casino Strike in Atlantic City Lingers With No End in
By IVER PETERSON
Published: October 31, 2004
ATLANTIC CITY, Oct. 27 - Pete Boruch is a "Day 1-er,"
a bartender who has been on the job since the first
casino opened here in 1978. He believes that he has
helped build Atlantic City from the ghost town it was
then to the $4.5 billion gambling operation it is now.
That sense of ownership, he said, explains why he and
thousands of other striking casino workers are still
out there after nearly a month. Four hours a day, five
days a week, they bang on tin cans and empty bleach
bottles and yell at motorists to stay away until the
city's longest strike is settled on the union's terms.
"When the casinos came here, they promised us
middle-class wages and middle-class benefits," said
Mr. Boruch, 48, a bartender at the Showboat Atlantic
City. "We're not going to let them take that away from
Workers from seven casinos, including the Showboat,
the Hilton and the Tropicana, went out on strike Oct.
1, and there is no sign the labor dispute will be
resolved any time soon.
The strikers described willingly interrupting jobs
that paid $500 to $700 a week in wages and tips for
the $300 a week that the union, Local 54 of the Hotel
Employees and Restaurant Employees International
Union, pays them for picketing four hours a day, five
days a week.
It has not been easy, they said. They spoke of their
reliance on their spouses to work longer hours, and of
their hopes that their children would understand that
Christmas might be a bit lean this year. What they did
not express was a willingness to give up.
"I used to be completely against unions, and I am not
completely for them now," said Joy Korngut, 31, a
cocktail waitress at the Hilton before the strike.
"But now that I've worked for a multimillion-dollar
corporation, I can completely understand why food
workers and others need these job protections, because
without them, what's to stop the owners from saying,
'Hey, goodbye - we gave your job to someone else'?"
About 600 union members have already gone back to
work, even as union and management remain divided on
two significant points. The union wants a three-year
contract that would put the Atlantic City and Las
Vegas locals on the same negotiation cycle, vastly
increasing the union's ability to threaten a national
strike, and it wants the casino's high-end restaurants
and other attractions, which are subcontractors, to be
unionized, at least after current leases expire. The
struck casinos, which are negotiating as a bloc,
insist on a five-year contract, to avoid giving the
union the power to lock up both Las Vegas and Atlantic
City, and say they cannot dictate labor terms to
subcontractors without losing them.
There have been two bargaining sessions, one of about
90 minutes just after the strike began, and a second
on Oct. 22 that lasted 45 minutes. No talks are
scheduled, and the casinos have been taking out almost
daily newspaper ads and radio spots to paint the
strike as an exercise in empire-building by the union,
at the expense of its members' daily needs.
The strike is against Bally's Atlantic City, Caesars
Atlantic City, Resorts Atlantic City, Harrah's
Atlantic City, the Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort,
the Showboat, and Tropicana Casino and Resort. The
three Trump properties, the Marina, the Taj Mahal and
the Plaza, have been skirting bankruptcy and agreed to
the union's demands from the outset. The Sands
followed suit, while the union's contract with
Borgata, the city's newest casino, does not expire
The struck casinos are still operating, although at a
lower level of service, using management staff and the
workers who returned. A walk through the Showboat on
Wednesday showed a few windows that were not as clean
as they should be, and the cocktail servers for the
table games were scarce. But most table games were
elbow-to-elbow at midday on a weekday, and the slot
machines rang loudly with each drop of a coin.
The fuller impact of the strike will be revealed next
month, when the casinos report their October winnings
to the Casino Control Commission. But Leo Troy, an
economics professor at Rutgers University's Newark
campus and an expert on labor-management issues, said
he doubted the impact would be great. The union, he
said, made a big miscalculation.
"The strike has not played to the union's advantage,"
he said. "I think they made a mistake, but I doubt
they'd admit it."
The union spokesman, Chris Magoulas, dismissed the
criticism. "I guess some people would rather believe
what management tells them," he said. He added, "Ask
the people on the picket line."
Kirk Townsel, a cook at the Hilton, said he saved
$2,000 before the strike, which will have to carry him
and his three children until January. But he hopes to
be back before Thanksgiving. He would not, though,
cross the picket line, he said.
"No, sir, not at all," said Mr. Townsel, 47. "We're
standing outside to let the management know that we're
humans too - we have to make decisions for ourselves."
The union increased its strike pay from $200 to $300
last week to help its members hold on, and there are
food banks and social service workers at the union
hall to make calls to creditors. Other unions are also
contributing money and manpower.
"If this was just about the five-year contract, I'd go
back tomorrow," said Dianna Coco-Tischler, 43, who
quit her job as a preschool teacher outside
Philadelphia for a waitressing job at the Showboat
that paid $600 to $700 a week. "But the subcontracting
is the No. 1 thing, and I'll stay out on strike for
that, because those could be our jobs they're giving
G. Patrick Pawling contributed additional reporting
for this article.
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