Casino Workers Strike Possible

Casino Workers Strike Possible Casino workers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to authorize their union to strike if a new contract is not reached by Wednesday.

If called, a strike would affect all but one of the city's 12 casinos, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, which opened last year. Its contract with Local 54 of UNITE HERE does not expire until 2007.

Some 14,500 of Local 54's 17,000 members were eligible to vote, union spokesman Chris Magoulas said.

He said 8,020 members voted to authorize a strike and 108 voted against.

"It sends an extraordinary message to the gaming industry that workers in Atlantic City want to be part of the future of this industry and they're ready to fight to keep their health care and to prevent low-wage, low-benefit jobs from taking over this town," Magoulas said Thursday night, after the votes were tallied.

He said traffic was so heavy around the convention center where voting took place that thousands of union members were not able to cast their votes.

The union represents cooks, housekeepers, food servers, bartenders, cocktail servers and other service workers.

The contract would expire just four days before the Miss America Pageant.

The last citywide strike by Local 54 was in 1999, a three-day action that crippled casino hospitality services.

Negotiators took a break Thursday after talking on Tuesday and Wednesday, Magoulas said.

The union is seeking to preserve health benefits and limit subcontracting, he said.

It also wants a three-year contract, instead of the current five-year contract, so a new contract would expire with that of the Borgata, as well as with casinos in Las Vegas and Detroit, Magoulas said.

Chicago-area riverboat casino workers are also seeking a new contract that expires in 2007, he said.

A lawyer representing the casinos did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

If a strike is called, the negotiating committee could target one, some or all of the casinos, Magoulas said.

Of particular concern is Tropicana Casino and Resort, which plans to subcontract jobs at The Quarter, its shopping and entertainment complex opening this fall, to companies that can hire nonunion workers, said Al Tabei, a member of Local 54's executive board and negotiating committee.

The committee urged a "yes" vote on strike authorization, he said. He declined to say whether members would strike if no contract was near by Wednesday.

"We want to avoid that if we can," said Tabei, 52, of Cherry Hill, a bartender at Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel for the past 14 years. But union members are prepared to walk without a fair deal, he said.

The casinos have split into three different bargaining groups, according to the union:

--Tropicana and Resorts Atlantic City. --The three Trump properties: Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Plaza and Trump Marina. --Caesars Entertainment, which operates Caesars Atlantic City, Bally's Atlantic City and Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort, and Harrah's, which operates Harrah's Atlantic City and Showboat Atlantic City.

Not participating is the Sands Casino Hotel, which has an agreement allowing it to join in the first approved contract, and the Borgata.

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Author: NBC10/AP

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