Arrests Made at Protest

Arrests Made at Protest Striking casino workers were betting that civil disobedience will help settle their labor dispute and they were willing to go to jail for their cause.

Around 1,500 union workers streamed into the streets of Atlantic City Friday as the afternoon rush got started. They marched to the area where the Atlantic City Expressway enters the city and blocked traffic with their chanting protest.

On Thursday, a union organizer gave about 100 volunteers a primer on the history of civil disobedience, invoking the memory of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King and imploring workers to demonstrate peacefully and not resist when it's their turn to be handcuffed. "We're going to send a message that workers here in Atlantic City are not going to knuckle under to the gigantic corporations who want to run us over," said D. Taylor, vice president of gaming for parent union UNITE HERE.

Those volunteers on Friday sat in a circle, chanting and singing until police put flexicuffs on them and took them away.

The workers have been off the job for a week.

As of 6 p.m. the protest had broken up and traffic was flowing again on the expressway.

Union representatives said the 10,000 workers walked off the job leaving nonunion workers at seven hotels to pick up their duties. Local 54 and casino managers are arguing over the use of nonunion employees, the economic packages and the length of the contracts.

The workers, members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union Local 54, have been on strike at seven of Atlantic City's 12 casinos since Oct. 1 in a dispute over subcontracting, contract length and health care benefits.

Bartenders, bell captains, food servers, hostesses and cocktail servers went on strike Oct. 1 at Harrah's Atlantic City, Showboat Casino-Hotel, Resorts Atlantic City, Bally's Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City, Tropicana Casino and Resort and the Atlantic City Hilton.

Some have crossed picket lines and returned to work -- Local 54 President Robert McDevitt has estimated that number at about 500 -- but both sides have dug in, anticipating no quick resolution.

Negotiations broke off Sept. 30 and none have been held since. Instead, each side has appealed to workers through full-page newspaper advertisements and radio commercials.

The main sticking point is the length of the contract. Union officials want a three-year deal whose expiration would coincide with contracts of sister unions in Las Vegas, Chicago and elsewhere.

Casino officials, who want a five-year contract, are afraid coinciding contract expirations would give the unions the power to shut down casinos in Atlantic City, Las Vegas and other jurisdictions should talks stall in 2007.

The strike, which does not include dealers and casino-floor workers, has forced casinos to close some restaurants, curtail services and put highly paid executives and nonunion employees to work as housekeepers, bartenders and cocktail servers.

Gamblers, meanwhile, have complained of dirty bathrooms, poor service and being forced to eat off paper plates.

It is the longest casino strike in the 26 years since the first New Jersey casino opened.

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