Casino Strike Sparks Rampage Order To Work Ignored

Posted: September 17, 1986

ATLANTIC CITY — Striking casino-hotel workers and marauding youths went on a rampage last night, smashing windows and throwing rocks at police, after a federal judge ordered workers to end their walkout against eight casino-hotels.

"This is as close as we've seen to mob rule in the city of Atlantic City," Mayor James L. Usry said. He said Local 54 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union had "lost control of its own members."

Police said 39 people were injured throughout the day and night, including nine officers. Most of the injured were admitted to the Atlantic City Medical Center with minor injuries, officials said. Two of them had been hit by cars in the melee. All but one were treated and released.

Groups of strikers, joined by neighborhood youths, roamed the Boardwalk and Pacific Avenue, heaving rocks and bricks through store windows and buses that were ferrying nonstriking workers to the eight casino-hotels affected by the walkout.

"This is total chaos," said Roger P. Wagner, president of the Claridge Hotel & Casino, one of the three casinos unaffected by the strike called at 12:01 a.m. yesterday. "It's turned into a riot," he said, "not a strike."

Complaining that gamblers were "scared to death" by the disorder, Wagner and other casino officials criticized the Police Department for failing to maintain order. "They let it get out of control," Wagner said.

As tensions mounted and disturbances broke out, police - whose numbers seemed thin against the swell of pickets - contended that manpower shortages and restrictions on overtime pay had left them unable to adequately staff the situation.

Although several casino executives and Usry criticized the police for not maintaining order, Casino Association President Thomas Carver defended the police force. "There are many times when police are called upon to make judgments," Carver said. "The judgments may, in fact, be to keep cool heads."

Police said that about 33 people were arrested since the strike began and charged with offenses ranging from aggravated assault to making terroristic threats. Twenty of those were arrested in a three-hour period last night.

Officials ordered the city's off-duty police to work last night. Atlantic County sheriff's deputies and police from neighboring communities, responding to an appeal from Atlantic City officials, also assisted in restoring order. The New Jersey State Police also dispatched troopers last night after city officials had requested the aid for most of the day.

The vandalism erupted after U.S. District Judge Stanley S. Brotman ordered 11,000 waitresses, bartenders, chambermaids and messengers back to work, saying they were violating a no-strike clause in their contract with the Atlantic City Casino Association.

The judge's ruling late yesterday afternoon came 18 hours after casino workers took to Atlantic City's streets, blocking buses and hooting at gamblers who ventured across their picket lines. Strikers virtually destroyed a bus that had been used to transport nonunion workers to Caesars Atlantic City Hotel-Casino.

"I expect every worker to go back as soon as the court enters the order, unless a higher court finds me wrong," the judge said. Brotman, who issued the temporary restraining order at 5:50 p.m. yesterday, said it was effective immediately.

Instead, striking employees took to the streets. "They're going nuts," police Detective Kenneth Brown said last night, describing "an uncontrollable mob" of 5,000 pickets walking over cars and overturning trash cans on Pacific Avenue, the thoroughfare paralleling the Boardwalk casinos.

"They've been throwing rocks and bottles and getting in the way of cars," said Simon Atlas, an owner of Aid Ambulances of Atlantic City. "Some people are getting hit. One patron just got hit in the head with a rock in front of one of the casinos and had his head split open."

By 8:30, union officials said that negotiations over wages with the casino association had resumed and called strikers off the picket lines.

The disturbances, however, continued.

Witnesses said that neighborhood residents, along with strikers wearing bandanas to conceal their faces, clustered under the full moon, heaving bottles into the street and taunting police wearing riot gear.

By 9:30 p.m., police said, ordered had been restored.

Brotman, in his ruling yesterday, threatened to jail striking employees if they failed to comply with his back-to-work order. Local 54 leaders declined to comment on that order until the leadership finished meeting on the issue.

Members of Local 54 said that union leaders had advised employees not to return to work last night.

STAY-HOME ORDER

"Don't go," a woman who answered the union's phones said to a reporter, whom she had mistaken for a worker.

Attorneys for Local 54 said they would appeal Brotman's ruling today.

Earlier in the day, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge L. Anthony Gibson restricted picketing by the workers after they blocked casino entrances and smashed the windows of some gaming halls.

The eight casinos affected by the strike remained open.

Atlantic City Police Chief Joseph Pasquale described the scene along Pacific Avenue as a "madhouse" in the minutes after the strike was called, when nine striking workers were arrested, seven of them on criminal charges stemming from an attempt to block a casino entrance and two for traffic charges.

During the day, strikers blocked traffic and disabled several vehicles shuttling nonstriking employees to casinos. Pickets implored gamblers to go to the three gaming halls that are unaffected by the strike because they are not members of the Atlantic City Casino Association.

They tossed eggs at buses and gamblers. As police stood by, a group tried to overturn a car with the driver in it; the car had stopped on Pacific Avenue near Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel.

GAMING HALLS QUIET

While casino officials said publicly that business was unaffected by the walkout, gaming halls were noticeably quiet yesterday. Management and nonunion employees took over the duties of striking workers.

After police had complained early yesterday that they could not control the crowds, the mayor appealed to Trenton for assistance from the New Jersey State Police. Sen. John F. Russo (D., Ocean), who is acting as governor while Gov. Kean is away on a trade trip in China, declined Usry's request. Russo said he was monitoring the situation and would order the state police to Atlantic City if an emergency arose.

"The state should be rather hesitant and deliberate in sending the state police into a community," Russo said at a news conference yesterday. He said troopers would be sent to the city only if the situation was out of control.

Brown, the Atlantic City detective, said last night that some state police had been dispatched to join local forces in patrolling the resort's glass- littered streets.

Local 54 employees voted overwhelmingly on Monday to strike after the casino association requested a two-year freeze on benefits and wages. While the strike vote was being tallied, the casino association revised its offer to include a 2 percent wage increase.

HARRAH'S REQUEST

Brotman, who ordered casino employees back to work at the request of Harrah's Marina Hotel Casino, ruled that a no-strike clause in Local 54's contract forced the workers to submit any issues to binding arbitration.

The union's five-year contract expires Sept. 14, 1988, but it provides for negotiations on wages and benefits to reopen this month.

Michael Katz, a Local 54 attorney, argued that Brotman had no standing to stop the strike. He said that employees can strike because the casinos had not gone to arbitration on issues of wages and benefits.

"We don't want this strike," Katz said. "But they have forced us into a strike posture because they refuse to arbitrate."

Brotman urged both sides to negotiate in good faith and expedite arbitration. He told them "not to play hardball with each other."

Negotiations reached an impasse Saturday. The casino association, which had initially proposed a 6 percent pay cut for employees, demanded the two-year freeze on wages and benefits for current employees and a lower pay scale for those hired after Monday.

Shortly before two days of union voting ended Monday, the association agreed on a last-ditch offer that would increase hourly wages by up to 20 cents - about 2 percent a year. Union leaders scoffed at the offer as too little, too late.

15% INCREASE SOUGHT

The union has asked for a 15 percent wage increase over two years. Roy Silbert, president of the 12,500-member union, told the Associated Press yesterday that the union had lowered its demand to a 5 percent annual increase.

The resumed negotiations were continuing early today, officials said.

The casinos affected by the strike are Atlantis Casino Hotel; Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel; Caesars; Golden Nugget Casino/Hotel; Harrah's Marina Hotel Casino; Resorts International Casino Hotel; Tropicana Hotel & Casino, and the Sands Hotel & Casino.

Three casinos were not affected by the strike. Trump Casino Hotel, Trump's Castle Hotel & Casino and Claridge Hotel & Casino agreed to sign whatever contract Local 54 works out with the casino association.

The Atlantis, which last year filed for protection from creditors under federal bankruptcy laws, is negotiating separately with Local 54.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Rosemary Gambardella scheduled a 2 p.m. hearing today on Atlantis' request for a contempt-of-court order against workers who the casino said had violated Gambardella's order enjoining picketing at the casino.

AWAITING BUSES

While elderly slot players from Boston to Brooklyn waited for their charter buses to carry them home yesterday afternoon, the whistles, screams, and chants of hundreds of striking casino workers echoed along the boardwalk.

H. Steven Norton, executive vice president of Resorts International, complained that the local police were not taking action against the strikers. ''The only problem we've had is on the street, where the Atlantic City Police Department has not been enforcing the law," Norton said.

"It's just chaos," said Pasquale, the police chief, who complained that his officers were vastly outnumbered by the strikers. "We only have so many people and we're trying to do the best we can."

Judge Gibson, ruling in Atlantic City, restricted the unions to no more than three pickets at each casino entrance. The order, which was agreed to by the unions and the casinos, also prohibits strikers from intimidating the casino patrons and nonunion employees crossing the picket line.

Despite casino officials' public statements that the strike had not affected business, one casino source estimated that business had dropped by as much as 80 percent.

The strike is the first against the casinos by Local 54 and the most widespread by any union since casino gambling began here in 1978.

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