|By Suzette Parmley, The Philadelphia
InquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 21, 2009--After two years of what they describe as a run-around over a contract with Harrah's Entertainment Inc., dealers at two of Atlantic City's biggest casinos have authorized a strike.
According to results of the weekend vote released by the United Auto Workers, which represents the casino employees, more than 90 percent of dealers at Bally's and dealers and slot technicians at Caesars endorsed a walkout.
With the vote, the workers join dealers at the Tropicana, who authorized a strike in January.
No date for a walkout has been set, and the UAW said yesterday that it would continue to try to resolve the issues without a strike.
"UAW members negotiate successfully with all kinds of employers, including casinos, and we know how to get the job done," UAW secretary-treasurer Elizabeth Bunn said. "The reason we haven't succeeded in Atlantic City is plain and simple: Management either won't come to the table, or they engage in stalling tactics once they get there."
The strike authorization is the latest salvo in an escalating war of words between the dealers and Harrah's Entertainment.
The company fired back yesterday, insisting it was ready to proceed with temporary replacement workers in the event of a strike at Caesars and/or Bally's.
"Despite the UAW's assurances to the dealers that they don't actually plan to call for a strike, we take their threats seriously," said J. Carlos Tolosa, president of Harrah's Entertainment's eastern division. "There are 14,000 employees in Atlantic City [who work for Harrah's casinos]. . . and we are not going to let the misguided tactics of the UAW interfere with our guests or the employees who are working hard to keep Atlantic City competitive this summer."
Tolosa said the company would not replace any employee who reported to work as scheduled during a strike.
In 2007, dealers at both casinos voted to join the UAW, and the slot technicians at Caesars followed.
In March, the union launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign on billboards, radio, and cable television and in newspapers with the tagline: "Everybody loses at Bally's and Caesars when workers get treated unfairly."
The ads criticize the compensation of Harrah's Entertainment chief executive officer and president Gary Loveman, who received $92.3 million in total compensation last year, including $89.1 million in stock options and a $2 million annual salary, as the company cut health and retirement benefits and hours for its dealers.
If a walkout occurs, it will be during the most challenging time in recent memory for Atlantic City's gambling industry, which saw revenue decrease last month by nearly 14 percent -- a stunning decline in the peak summer season for the resort.
The reeling economy and slots competition from Pennsylvania continue to batter the nation's No. 2 gambling market. Several hundred Atlantic City casino workers have been laid off this year.
Evelyn Rodriguez, 48, a 14-year dealer at Bally's, who appears in one of the ads, said Harrah's refusal to negotiate had nothing to do with the economy.
"The casinos are still going," she said yesterday. "At the same time, our job security, health benefits, and our 401(k) have been taken away from us. It's getting ridiculous."
Tolosa accused the UAW of "continuing to perpetuate lies and half-truths in an effort to advance their positions."
There are about 960 dealers at Bally's and 722 dealers and technicians at Caesars.
Contact staff writer Suzette Parmley at 215-854-2594 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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