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Casino Strike in Atlantic City Lingers With No End in Sight (NYTimes 10.31.04)

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  • Mr Paul C. Paz
    Casino Strike in Atlantic City Lingers With No End in Sight By IVER PETERSON Published: October 31, 2004 ATLANTIC CITY, Oct. 27 - Pete Boruch is a Day 1-er,
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 31, 2004
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      Casino Strike in Atlantic City Lingers With No End in
      Sight
      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
      us."

      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
      until 2007.

      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
      away."


      G. Patrick Pawling contributed additional reporting
      for this article.



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