Atlantic City’s fiscally flailing Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort got a temporary reprieve from the knackers on Friday after a judge agreed to void the casino’s contract with its unionized employees. The Taj’s owners had warned that the casino would close on Nov. 13 unless it received a number of concessions, including having its workers agree to give up their pension and health care benefits.
On Friday, federal bankruptcy court Judge Kevin Gross granted Trump Entertainment Resorts’ (TER) request to terminate its contract with the UNITE-HERE union. Bob McDevitt, president of the union’s Local 54, said the decision would “certainly enrage” the Taj’s workers and vowed to “continue this fight both in the courts and in the streets.” Local 54 has already staged street protests this month and McDevitt announced a new three-hour picket outside the casino for next Friday (24).
McDevitt said Carl Icahn (pictured), who holds most of the Taj Mahal’s $286m in debt, has “a long history of eliminating, reducing or freezing worker benefits which sometimes saddles government agencies with the burden of cleaning up the mess.” Icahn has promised to swap his debt for ownership of the property, after which he would inject $100m into the casino to shore up its finances, but much depends on Icahn securing a whole lot of corporate welfare.
TER CEO Robert Griffin issued a statement saying the focus would now shift to “working with our elected officials” to secure that state aid. Icahn had sought $30m in property tax relief and a further $25m from the state’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority but Atlantic City mayor Don Guardian and state Senate president Steve Sweeney have described these plans as non-starters. Icahn now says he will seek $175m in assorted tax credits and economic grants, including some programs for which casinos aren’t currently eligible and will require state legislators to revise laws.
If the Taj were to close as planned next month, it would be the fifth AC casino to shut its doors this year. Legislators are therefore keen to keep the Taj open and its 3k employees off the dole, but Friday’s court decision will provide precedent for AC’s remaining casinos to tear up their own union contracts. Ironic that Icahn may have achieved victory over UNITE HERE when the stridently anti-union Sheldon Adelson – whose Las Vegas Sands has no AC presence – has so far come up snake eyes in his legal wars with the union.