Atlantic City Casino Union Negotiations Continue, as Strike Looms

Posted on: June 22, 2022, 11:59h. 

Last updated on: June 22, 2022, 12:14h.

The Atlantic City casino union Unite Here Local 54 has authorized a walkout at any time after July 1, 2022, should new collective bargaining agreements with the nine resorts not be reached.

Atlantic City casino union strike New Jersey
Unite Here Local 54 union picket signs on the Atlantic City Boardwalk on October 1, 2004. A similar strike by casino workers could be coming to the New Jersey town just ahead of the major July 4 holiday weekend. (Image: Getty)

Just a week remains before Atlantic City’s busiest weekend of the year gets underway. The nine casinos are banking on the 2022 July 4 Independence Day holiday weekend being extraordinarily busy. That’s after summer travel plans were hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic in each of the previous two years.

The union’s threat to initiate a strike at any moment beginning next Friday at 12:01 am EDT could give the labor organization the upper hand in the ongoing contract negotiations. Union reps are demanding higher take-home pay in this round of labor talks.

Gas is up. Groceries are up. Everything, you name it,” Rodney Mills, a housekeeper at the Tropicana who is authorized to speak publicly on the union’s behalf, told NPR this week. “It costs you way more than it used to, and the wages that we are currently making are not sustainable.”

Mills has been a Tropicana employee for the past 30 years. He currently makes $16.25 an hour, which equates to roughly $33,800 annually before taxes.

Contracts Coinciding with Holiday No Coincidence

Unite Here Local 54’s expiration of its collective bargaining agreements with the Atlantic City casinos coming just a month before the July 4 holiday is a strategic move on the union’s part. The labor contracts officially expired June 1, giving the two sides only a month before the Independence Day weekend to reach new terms.

“The union picked that date to ratify their contract for that very reason,” explained Jane Bokunewicz, director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism (LIGHT). “It gives them leverage that it’s right before the holiday weekend.”

Bokunewicz said it’s difficult to determine how many visitors considering a long weekend in New Jersey’s gaming beach town might opt for a different destination because of the labor disputes. Unite Here in May launched an “Atlantic City Travel Alert” website warning vacationers that their summer plans could be interrupted by a strike. The website lists non-gaming hotels in town that are still union-represented properties.

“You don’t know how many people will stay away, how well the management will be able to run the properties and keep them operating,” Bokunewicz continued. “It’s hard to put a number or percentage on it. But it will definitely have an impact.”

Strike Bad for Casinos, Workers

While the Atlantic City casino union might have an upper hand at the bargaining table, a strike hurts not only the resorts, but also their employees. With many gaming industry workers relying heavily on tips, a walkout during the busiest weekend of the summer would result in steep financial repercussions for laborers.

A lot of employees make most of their money — hospitality employees, especially — during the busy summer season because the tips are higher. There’s more people and they can really make a lot of money on a Fourth of July weekend,” Bokunewicz reasoned.

The last major strike in Atlantic City came in October 2004, when an estimated 10,000 resort workers walked off the job and onto the picket line. However, none of the resorts shuttered as a result, and instead brought in temp workers. It took a full month until the union and casinos resolved their differences and the strike ended on November 4.