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‘Like a second home’: Longtime Tropicana workers say leaving will be bittersweet

Updated March 29, 2024 - 12:23 pm

Pamela Coleman has been a bartender at the Tropicana for 37 years, but she still vividly remembers her interview.

She came to the Miami Beach-themed property at 21 seeking an apprenticeship through Culinary Local 226.

“I had an aunt that worked there, and I always dreamed about working at the building with the waterfalls,” she said.

When the manager asked for bar experience, she replied honestly. She had none. He hired her then anyway, and she’s made cocktails for the casino floor ever since.

Coleman and hundreds of other workers at the 66-year-old resort-casino prepare to say goodbye to a workplace that was the center of a lengthy career and a second home to some.

The Rat Pack-era hotel closes midday April 2, though the casino floor will wind down overnight. The current owners and operators of the 1,467-room resort plan to provide 9 acres of its 35-acre campus for a 33,000-seat, $1.5 billion Major League Baseball stadium for the relocating Oakland Athletics.

As guests and vintage Vegas lovers visit throughout the remaining days of operation, workers say they, too, will be taking in the last moments.

Alex Ripoll, a Tropicana Steakhouse server who’s been at the resort for 33 years, said he started as a junior in high school and has been a server since he was 21. He said he’ll miss the family atmosphere between staff members.

“It was like a second home to me,” he said. “Some people don’t feel that way about their jobs, but for me it was.”

Ripoll said many of his coworkers have worked together and stayed friends throughout the decades. He recalls playing softball games, going out with each other and even meeting his wife through a friend and coworker.

“Most of the people I’ve worked with, we’ve been together since day one,” Ripoll said. “So we all know each other really well, we know each other’s families and everything else.”

Culinary Local 226 negotiated for strong severance benefits in anticipation of the resort’s closure during bargaining last fall. The agreement that covers about 500 union members says that each person will receive $2,000 in severance for every year of service. For dozens of employees, that can result in payouts around $60,000.

Employees have to work at the resort until they are officially laid off to receive the severance, which also includes six months of health care and pension benefits.

Union members also will have the option of recall rights, receiving a severance of up to $15,000 and being among the employees who return to the company’s redeveloped resort project when it opens near the ballpark in several years.

Bally’s human resources team held a job fair and other transition resourcing for its employees, though Culinary spokesperson Bethany Khan said the union is not aware of how many workers received job offers from the fair as the hiring process could be ongoing.

The off-boarding resources have been valuable to Coleman. She said she was three years to retirement age and considered an early retirement, but also applied to a job in another industry.

“I know it’s gonna be bittersweet, there will be some tears,” she said. “But Tropicana allowed us to get where we are now and it allowed a lot of people to retire, or get a little bit to let you relax and go out with some money.”

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on X.

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