Tropicana workers stay suspended

Paul Smith helps block traffic outside the Tropicana. Union members protested on June 15 the casino's not agreeing to a new contract.
Paul Smith helps block traffic outside the Tropicana. Union members protested on June 15 the casino's not agreeing to a new contract. (WAYNE PARRY / Associated Press)

Suspensions were given to 21 after a protest that blocked traffic near the casino.

Posted: June 27, 2012

ATLANTIC CITY - Twenty-one workers at the Tropicana Casino & Resort who took part in a traffic-blocking protest outside the casino's main entrance this month will remain suspended for 30 days.

The casino could have fired the workers, Tropicana president Tony Rodio said.

"It was the leadership of the union that misled the workers into making a bad decision, and it wouldn't have been fair to make them lose their jobs for the mistakes of their union leaders," he said.

A Superior Court judge granted the Tropicana a restraining order Monday prohibiting Local 54 of the Unite Here union from conducting similar protests or interfering with the casino's business, Rodio said. Local 54 said Tuesday that the court order was agreed to in advance by both sides and does not prevent it from taking future lawful protest measures.

"Despite Tropicana's attempts to portray us as economic terrorists, we were only peaceful workers protesting Tropicana's illegal refusal to bargain a fair contract," said Bob McDevitt, the union president. "We exercised our constitutional rights and engaged in a symbolic act. We entered into the consent order to make this clear. The consent order doesn't limit our ability to engage in strikes, pickets, or rallies at Tropicana."

The union conducted what it called civil disobedience June 15 resulting in the arrest of 49 of its members after they sat down in the road. The union was protesting the lack of a new contract and the casino's termination of its employee pension plan in favor of cash payments to workers. The 21 suspended workers represented all the Tropicana protesters who were arrested as part of the demonstration.

The union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the suspensions.

"These workers have families to feed and people who depend on them," McDevitt said. "Tony Rodio needs to stop acting like a little bully."

Several of the suspended workers remained defiant, saying they would endure their punishment if it ultimately helped improve workers' situations.

"I am a single mother with three kids," said Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper who has worked at the casino for two years. "Keeping me out of work for a month is really tough, but I don't regret what I did. I stood up for myself and my family, and my kids are proud of me for it."

The workers were charged with refusing to obey a police order and blocking a roadway and were released on summonses to appear in Municipal Court. The hearings have yet to take place.

Carl Icahn bought the Tropicana out of Bankruptcy Court in 2010. As a new owner, he was not obligated to assume the pension liabilities of previous owners to a fund that is underfunded by as much as $1.5 billion. The casino instead said it would give employees cash equal to what their pension allotments would have been, or deposit that money into their 401(k) accounts.

The Tropicana is among three Atlantic City casinos that do not have contracts with Local 54.

Until recently, both sides had worked to achieve labor peace, saying a strike would cause greater damage now than it did seven years ago, when Atlantic City's revenues were near their height. During the last five years, Atlantic City's casino revenue has fallen from $5.2 billion to $3.3 billion. Thousands of jobs have disappeared.

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