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Casino workers in Atlantic City marching against Icahn

ATLANTIC CITY — As the Trump Taj Mahal casino hurtled toward closing, hundreds of union members marched on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk on Wednesday to denounce billionaire Carl Icahn and his role in its anticipated demise.

Icahn would acquire the casino and its parent company, Trump Entertainment Resorts by swapping the $286 million in company debt he holds for ownership of the company. His planned $100 million investment into the Taj Mahal, however, is contingent on receiving $175 million in state and local tax breaks that have so far have been rejected at every level of government.

On Wednesday, the casino put signs on its property and on its website warning customers it will close on Dec. 12 and urged them to redeem comps and other offers by that time.

Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, led the march from the Taj Mahal to the Tropicana Casino and Resort, which Icahn also owns.

“We’re waiting to see what you want to be, Mr. Icahn — the good guy or the bad guy,” McDevitt said. “We’ll take you down either way!”

Union workers chanted, “No health care, no peace!” and “Shame on you!” as they approached the Tropicana.

It was the third public protest the union has carried out this fall aimed at reversing the planned closure, including one in which members sat down on the Atlantic City Expressway and blocked traffic. The company has not budged.

Trump Entertainment sent a letter to its 3,000 employees Wednesday repeating its position that the only way to keep the casino open is for the union to withdraw its appeal of a bankruptcy court order that canceled the Taj Mahal’s union contract, ending health care and pension coverage for workers. The letter also likened McDevitt to Russian dictator Joseph Stalin, accusing him of spreading propaganda.

Trump Entertainment Resorts CEO Bob Griffin accused the union of operating its health fund as a profit center, charging far more than the actual cost of delivering health care. The union said the health plan, which is jointly overseen by the union and other Atlantic City casinos, pays out more than $100 million a year to workers in southern New Jersey.

Trump Entertainment Resorts “are the ones that ripped it away from workers at the Taj Mahal,” union analyst Ben Begleiter said. “They can write as many silly letters as they want, but the fact remains that workers are marching today because what they did was wrong.”

Icahn did not respond to a request for comment.

Charles Wowkanech, president of the New Jersey AFL-CIO said the Taj Mahal’s fight for survival is a common one.

“The fight you’re fighting is going on all over the country, with corporate people who just can’t have enough money,” he said.

The Taj Mahal would become the fifth Atlantic City casino to close this year. As the march was underway, news broke that a deal for a Canadian company to buy the former Revel casino out of bankruptcy and re-open it had fallen through.

Valerie McMorris, a cocktail server at the Taj Mahal, said health insurance is the key to her job. Her husband worked at Revel and lost his job when that casino closed on Sept. 2, and their 15-year-old son relies on his mother’s health coverage.

“I want to know why Carl Icahn is basing his decision on whether to keep the Taj Mahal open on whether my family has health insurance,” she said. “I make $9 an hour. For $9 an hour and no health care, I can work anywhere, and not have to wear 2-inch heels and a skirt.”

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