UNION TOWN: In 1978 casinos were opened in Atlantic City, in part to bring jobs to residents of the struggling region. In 2004, during the town’s boom years, casino workers affiliated with UNITE HERE Local 54 went on strike for thirty-four days, engaging in massive acts of civil disobedience to demand wage increases and better health benefits.
Now casino workers have an even tougher fight on their hands. This summer Local 54 organized pickets in front of the historic Resorts Casino Hotel, which came close to bankruptcy in 2009 only to come under new management that has cut wages, on average, by more than 30 percent. As contracts end at nine other casinos, the companies are asking for huge givebacks from the 14,000-member local (some 40,000 people live in Atlantic City). Perhaps most important, workers are being expected to contribute to their healthcare plans while also assuming responsibility for future cost increases, according to Ben Begleiter, a Local 54 research analyst.
“It’s a citywide situation—everyone is being faced with this proposal, and it’s got to the point where we are pushing back,” says Dawn French, a cocktail server at Trump Plaza. “This community was made a promise years ago, and it’s being reneged on. You name it, and they’re trying to take it away.”
Workers say they are open to reasonable cutbacks. The gaming industry in the area is notably weaker than it was in 2004, when Pennsylvania legalized gambling and forced Atlantic City to face real competition; the recession badly weakened the industry too. From 2006 to 2010, Atlantic City’s revenues declined by 31 percent.
While continuing to picket at Resorts Casino Hotel, Local 54 is also considering other tactics. “We’ve been in communication with the convention businesses to warn them about the possibility of a strike and other labor disputes,” says Begleiter. In an era of union-busting and the rollback of worker protections and benefits, Local 54’s members aren’t going to meekly surrender. JAKE BLUMGART
A TOAST TO TEAMWORK: For more than sixty years, The Sidney Hillman Foundation has been supporting journalism in the public interest, a mission that also lies at the heart of our work at The Nation. In September we were honored to receive a Sidney Award, which is awarded for an “outstanding piece of socially conscious journalism,” for our series “ALEC Exposed” [August 1/8].
The project was a joint collaboration with the Center for Media and Democracy, whose extraordinary online database revealing more than 800 documents of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council was at the center of the Nation exposé, and whose fearless leaders, Mary Bottari and Lisa Graves, will receive a cash prize along with a (much deserved) bottle of union-made wine. The award also comes with a custom certificate designed by noted cartoonist Edward Sorel, which we will proudly display in our office. Cheers to the judges—and our incomparable media allies.