ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.
Thousands of casino workers protested outside Resorts Casino Hotel on Thursday, denouncing steep pay cuts most employees had to take when new owners bought the casino last year and throwing down the gauntlet to all 11 of the city's casinos with contract talks coming up soon.
Bob McDevitt, president of the union, Local 54 of Unite-HERE, said Resorts' actions were shameful and can't be allowed to occur at other casinos in the struggling gambling town.
The union, which represents housekeepers, food and beverage workers and other service staff at the casinos, has been seething since Resorts was sold in December. Casino industry veteran and former Las Vegas mob investigator Dennis Gomes and New York real estate magnate Morris Bailey bought Resorts at the fire sale price of $31.5 million, a small fraction of the $140 million its previous owners paid for it a decade ago.
Gomes says, legally, Resorts didn't cut anyone's pay, that it was hiring employees at starting salaries after the previous owners terminated everyone when the sale went through.
But regardless of the terminology, those who remained working at Resorts now do so for significantly less money than they earned before. Shirish Patel, a porter at the casino-hotel, earned $14.55 an hour before the sale and now earns $10.59.
"I understand the economy is no good, but this is way beyond the economy being no good," he said. "This is a massacre."
He said his former salary "was a modest life."
"I wasn't rich, but I was in the middle class," he said. "Now I pay my mortgager, and there's nothing left. I've gone through six months of savings, and soon there will be nothing left of that, too."
Patel, who is married and has a son, said his family has had to drastically scale back its lifestyle.
"Going out to dinner, seeing a movie or taking a vacation -- those things are no more," he said. "I only do things now that don't cost money. It's just basic survival: eat, sleep, work and pay your bills."
Gomes says the lower salaries were essential to keeping Resorts open. The casino was hemorrhaging money, its former owners walked away from it and handed title over to their lenders and the business was within days of having to close when Gomes and Bailey bought it.
Gomes also said the union should brace itself for givebacks rather than raises in upcoming contract talks.
"Because the industry is in such dire condition, there had to be givebacks," he said. "Other unions have understood that. They helped us survive, and we were able to keep their people working. This union is going to have to as well. There is no other way out. It's just reality. They have to help us if they want this industry to survive."
Atlantic City, the nation's second-largest gambling market after Las Vegas, has been losing revenue and market share to casinos in Pennsylvania and New York for 4 1/2 years.
But McDevitt, the union president, said Gomes and Bailey can afford to provide their workers decent wages.
"In Atlantic City, it is not morally acceptable for a billionaire to build his business on putting their employees into poverty, and that's what Morris Bailey is doing," McDevitt said. "They keep talking like they should get a merit badge because they bought the place for two cents on the dollar. But there's people who have lost three, four, five dollars an hour. They're earning now what they made 16 years ago. That's a disgrace."
Marcos Vidal, who's from the Dominican Republic and has been a housekeeper at Resorts for 18 years, said his pay went from $14.55 an hour to $9.83.
"Because of that, I don't have any Internet anymore, I don't make long-distance calls and I can't send my mother money anymore," he said.
Besides singling out Resorts, Thursday's protest also marked a tactical muscle-flexing by the union, which will start contract talks in the coming weeks with nine of the 11 casinos. In 2004, after contract negotiations broke down, the union went on strike for 34 days.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC