Workers at five Atlantic City casinos vote overwhelmingly to strike

Workers at five casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey have voted by over 96 percent to strike if a new contract is not agreed. Gambling is Atlantic City’s major industry, and is second only to Las Vegas, Nevada. The five casinos—Caesars, Tropicana, Harrah’s, Borgata and Hard Rock—together employ approximately 10,000 workers who belong to UNITE HERE Local 54.

The existing contract expired at the end of May and workers have been conducting informational picketing since then. The vote authorizes the union leadership to call a strike if no agreement is reached by July 1 for the first three casinos, and on July 3 for Hard Rock, but does not require it.

Casino housekeeping workers hold a press conference on the Atlantic City, NJ, Boardwalk on Wednesday, June 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

The overwhelming vote authorizing a strike is among the latest examples of the explosive growth of worker militancy across the US and around the world, the result of decades of wage stagnation and benefits give-backs, engineered in collaboration between unions and management, now exacerbated by rapidly rising inflation and the continuing effects of the pandemic.

According to the website salary.com, the current cost of living in Atlantic City is 14.2 percent higher than the national average. The union reports that the average wage at Caesar Entertainment casinos was about $15.81 per hour for non-tipped workers and $8.80 for tipped workers. Hospitality workers in general were already among the lowest paid sections of the working class, prior to the current crisis. According to the MIT Living Wage calculator, the current living wage in Atlantic County for one adult with no children is $18.83 per hour. The union’s wage demand is reportedly a totally inadequate $18 an hour under conditions of skyrocketing inflation, especially for workers supporting a family.

The gambling industry in Atlantic City has experienced severe contraction over the past decade, devastating its working population. In 2014, the city had 12 casinos. In less than nine months, that total had been reduced by a third and its workforce by one quarter. The response of Local 54 of the UNITE HERE union at that time was a useless call for state intervention.

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