‘We want to be able to survive’: Atlantic City casino workers strike over wages

Like all casino towns, Atlantic City in New Jersey relies on a public image of quick success where a small slice of luck can deliver the good life. But for thousands of workers who work in the city’s casinos, hotels, restaurants and stores, that image stands in stark contrast to reality.

Irina Sanchez, housekeeper at Caesars Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City since 1998, has been struggling with increases in rent, gas and food, which has made it even more difficult to care for her daughter who has cancer. diabetes.

“It’s expensive. I can barely manage it,” Sanchez said. the other with the next check.”

She earns $16.25 an hour and is pushing for a raise to account for the rising cost of living and to attract workers, as her department has been severely understaffed, which has contributed increased workload and many overtime hours. Her hotel has eliminated daily room cleaning, so she cleans the dirtiest rooms, while rushing to track the payment rooms as well.

“We work six days a week and we do overtime at least four of those days,” Sanchez said. “We need to be compensated for our loyalty to the company, and we deserve a raise and a better quality of life.”

More than 6,000 workers at five major Atlantic City casinos are set to strike to demand a new union contract that dramatically increases wages for workers, who say they have sacrificed pay in previous contracts and are struggling with the cost of life and inflation. increased significantly.

On June 15, workers represented by Unite Here Local 54 voted 96% in favor of authorizing a strike if a new union contract is not reached by July 1 at Caesars, Harrah’s, Tropicana and the Borgata, and July 3 at Hard Rock, the former Trump Taj Mahal casino, after their previous contracts expired on May 31 without a new deal being put in place.

The unions are preparing for a strike because the casinos have not yet raised wages and negotiations are continuing. The Atlantic City City Council unanimously passed a resolution in support of workers and their campaign for higher wages and called on casinos to negotiate a contract in good faith to avoid a strike.

According to the union, the Borgatas could lose about $1.6 million a day in the event of a workers’ strike, and Caesars, Tropicana and Harrah’s could lose an additional $1 million combined from a strike, hitting casinos before Friday. July 4 weekend, historically one of the busiest times of the year.

“We really need to get significant salaries in all areas. We sacrificed wages for many years to secure our health care and our retirement,” said Jeff Payne, who worked as a waiter at Caesars Laurel Lounge for 33 years. “The casinos are doing very well. They make billions of dollars in profits and they don’t want to invest in workers. It’s a struggle at this point and everyone is really struggling with anything going up, and the company isn’t willing to put salaries on the table.

A union survey of 1,934 casino workers in Atlantic City earlier this year found that 61% of respondents said they had trouble paying their rent or mortgage at least once in the past year. , 32% said they had difficulty affording food, 37% for utilities. , and 27% for transportation.

In March 2022, the average wage for untipped casino workers was $15.81 per hour and $8.80 per hour for tipped workers, while the living wage for an adult with no children in Atlantic County is $18.83 an hour, according to MIT’s Living Wage. calculator.

Workers said low wages contributed to staff shortages at casinos, which increased staff workloads, while profits at their Atlantic City casinos surged above pre-pandemic levels.

“They make a lot of money and we just want to be able to live, survive,” said Al Kare, a banquet server at Caesars for 20 years. “We work for two people because they don’t hire because they don’t hire at decent wages. We are the backbone of casinos. Without us, our smiles, our hard work, our sweat, these casinos would not survive.

They are also pushing for casinos to control contracting out, so that casinos don’t contract out more work in response to wage increases that workers are demanding.

“There are certain job classifications where we have very few workers and therefore you have to take that slack because that body is absent, or there is a call because they are working overtime and have to work. ‘be mandatory,’ said Ruth Ann Joyce, banquet bartender at Harrah’s. “It all comes down to economics. If we pay properly, pay as we should pay, the workers will come.

The casinos did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

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