Atlantic City protest over cut in benefits leads to 24 arrests

Atlantic City arrested 24 people who blocked streets in the New Jersey city on Wednesday as hundreds of casino workers demonstrated against plans by the Trump Taj Mahal to cut pension and health benefits.

“Hopefully, we’re getting our voices heard, making a statement that our health benefits are very important to us,” said Paul Smith, 46, a cook at the Taj Mahal who came dressed in medical scrubs.

There were no reported injuries and none of the demonstrators resisted arrest. Police estimated that 300 people took part in the protests. Representatives of the union said there were 750 protesters.

The demonstration came on the 10-year anniversary of a similar protest that closed seven Atlantic City casinos for over a month in a labor dispute.

Bob McDevitt, the president of the union representing the workers, said the dispute was over the same issues, health and pension benefits.

“When they were rolling in money, they wanted to take it all away from us 10 years ago,” McDevitt said.

Trump Entertainment Resorts, the owner of the Taj Mahal, filed for bankruptcy last month and is seeking bankruptcy court permission to terminate health benefits and a pension plan.

The company has said it will close in November if a deal is not reached on benefits and taxes.

A spokesman for Trump Entertainment said on Wednesday the company had no comment.

But workers fear that a move to cut benefits at one casino could trigger attempts to slash benefits at all of them.

“Casino gambling when it came here 38 years ago promised middle-class jobs,” said the Rev. John Scotland, a Presbyterian minister in the nearby community of Brigantine who was arrested Wednesday. “If we allow the Taj to take away benefits, all the casinos will do away with them.”

If the Taj Mahal closes in November, it would become the fifth Atlantic City casino to be shuttered this year. The city started the year with 12 casinos.

While the Taj Mahal itself is several blocks away from the protest site, the demonstration took place near the Tropicana, owned by billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

Workers held signs featuring what appeared to be images of Icahn. “Billionaire picking over our bones,” the placards read.

Icahn, Trump Entertainment’s main creditor, has proposed converting the debt owed to him into ownership of the company.

“This is bigger than just one property,” said Ben Begleiter, a spokesman for Unite Here Local 54, which represents about 1,100 of the Taj Mahal’s 3,000 employees under a collective bargaining agreement.

In 2004, nearly 100 union demonstrators were arrested after blocking the streets near the off-ramp to the Atlantic City Expressway during a 34-day strike at seven Atlantic City casinos.

The expressway serves as the major highway entrance into the city, which sits on a barrier island. State police blocked access to one of the expressway’s off ramps before the demonstration began.

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