|By Donald Wittkowski, The Press of
Atlantic City, Pleasantville, N.J.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 04, 2013--Atlantic City's largest casino union has reached an agreement for a three-year deal for 600 workers at Resorts Casino Hotel.
The union had staged raucous rallies in 2011 at Resorts to protest pay cuts that led some employees to apply for food stamps.
On-again, off-again negotiations followed for months before a deal was ratified by Local 54 UNITE-HERE members on Dec. 21. However neither side disclosed the contract agreement until this week.
Resorts spokeswoman Courtney Birmingham issued a statement this week saying that the contract includes terms and conditions "essentially the same as those reached by other Atlantic City casinos."
"We put together the best contract we could under the circumstances," said Bob McDevitt, Local 54's president.
McDevitt explained that negotiations were complicated and delayed by the death of Resorts' former chief executive officer, Hurricane Sandy and labor issues surrounding the casino's new Margaritaville expansion project.
"It was nice to get this thing done. There were a lot of roadblocks," McDevitt said.
Key aspects of the Resorts deal mirror the agreements Local 54 negotiated in the past year with other casinos. McDevitt noted that the contract preserves pension and health care benefits for union members.
"The company is, in good faith, doing what it should do," he said.
Resorts workers will receive pay raises immediately or later in the contract, depending on their scale. McDevitt said the top amount for workers getting an immediate raise will be $1.90 per hour, although other employees are receiving more modest increases.
Local 54 members had their pay reduced after Dennis Gomes and partner Morris Bailey bought Resorts for $31.5 million in December 2010. McDevitt said he would "like to roll back the clock" to fully restore everyone's pay under the new contract, but it simply wasn't possible.
Gomes, the Resorts CEO who died last February of complications from kidney dialysis, had cut salaries to help the casino survive. When Resorts was sold to Gomes and Bailey, the existing workers were required to reapply for their jobs and had their pay reduced when they were rehired.
In response, Local 54 began holding noisy protests outside Resorts on the Boardwalk. At one rally in June 2011, the union helped Resorts workers sign up for food stamps, saying that the pay cuts amounted to "starvation wages."
Relations with Gomes later improved, with both sides coming close to reaching a new contract before the CEO died, McDevitt said. Further complications in the Resorts-Local 54 negotiations arose when Hurricane Sandy struck in October, forcing the casino industry to close for a week.
Negotiators also had to work through issues concerning Local 54's presence at the $35 million Margaritaville-themed restaurant, bar and casino expansion project, which is scheduled to open at Resorts during the Memorial Day weekend.
Two Margaritaville restaurants, one overlooking the beach and another one inside Resorts, will be nonunion, McDevitt said. However, Local 54 workers will staff a new bar on the casino floor as well as a summer beach bar, he said.
Local 54 represents about 14,000 service workers in the casino industry, including bartenders, cocktail servers, cooks and housekeeping staff. With Resorts now in the fold, the union has new deals with nine of the 12 casinos.
Revel, Atlantic City's newest casino, has refused to bargain with Local 54 on a union contract. McDevitt expressed confidence that Local 54 will negotiate new deals with Tropicana Casino and Resort and Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa this year.
Local 54 has filed a complaint against Tropicana with the National Labor Relations Board over a dispute with the pension plan. McDevitt said the union is waiting for the NLRB to rule on the complaint before negotiations resume with Tropicana.
"We're not talking to them directly right now, but I think we can work toward a deal before spring," he said.
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