Taj Mahal casino offers striking workers an ultimatum

Posted at 5:39 PM, Jul 13, 2016

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — A strike against Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino grew more contentious Wednesday as strikers rallied outside the New York offices of Donald Trump, who opened the casino, and Carl Icahn, his fellow billionaire who now owns it.

As the protest unfolded, Icahn's management team issued an ultimatum to Taj Mahal strikers: Accept the company's health care offer by Monday or it's gone.

The developments came as the strike was in its second week, with little indication a settlement might occur soon. The casino remains open during the strike, which does not include dealers.

Union members held rallies outside the offices of Trump and Icahn, accusing both billionaires of harming the Taj Mahal. Trump opened the casino in 1990; Icahn acquired it from bankruptcy court in March, about seven years after Trump relinquished control.

"Both Trump and Icahn took lots of money out of this property, millions of dollars that could have been used to rebuild it and provide good wages and benefits for workers," union spokesman Ben Begleiter said. "Now Trump thinks Icahn should be running America's economy. If that happens, then all of America's workers are in trouble."

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has said his friend Icahn would make a good treasury secretary. Icahn said last August that he would accept the job, but later said he had no interest in it.

Tony Rodio, president of Tropicana Entertainment, which runs the Taj Mahal for Icahn, sent a letter to Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union warning that the company's heath care offer expires Monday at 5 p.m.

Referring repeatedly to the Taj Mahal as "a money pit" that is losing millions of dollars, Rodio urged individual workers to consider the $86 million Icahn has invested to keep the casino open since it declared bankruptcy in September 2014. He warned things cannot continue the way they are.

Rodio told The Associated Press the Taj Mahal offered to fund the union's health plan, just not to the level that other casinos do.

"The company offered to fund a health insurance plan that was offered by Unite Here but was not quite as rich as the plan at the other AC casinos," he said. "But it did provide medical insurance for all union members and their families. In addition, the Taj Mahal would have extended health insurance to all non-union members, as well. This one concession would have cost the company multiple millions of dollars."

The casino offered to reduce the number of rooms that each housekeeper is required to clean each shift from 16 to 14 to bring them in line with cleaners at other Atlantic City casinos.

Rodio also said the proposed deal "was for a mere 18 months which would have given the property time to turn things around and return to profitability" and that Taj management was reopening previously closed outlets and rooms, which creates additional work and jobs for union members.

Union president Bob McDevitt said workers cannot understand why the Tropicana, which Icahn also owns, agreed to a contract with full health care benefits, while offering Taj Mahal workers lesser coverage. A bankruptcy court judge in October 2014 allowed the Taj Mahal to cancel health insurance for its unionized workers.

"This company offered them health insurance that was essentially half of what every other property agreed to, including the Taj's sister casino," McDevitt said. "These workers want to know why it is OK for Trop workers to be able to go to the doctor, but not them?"