ATLANTIC CITY - No gaming hall wants to be associated with the words EVERYONE LOSES. But these days, Bally's and Caesars executives are confronted by that sentiment in connection with their casinos every time they drive on the Atlantic City Expressway.
The billboard message EVERYONE LOSES WHEN WORKERS ARE TREATED UNFAIRLY is sponsored by the United Auto Workers, which represents about 8,000 casino dealers and other workers in five gaming jurisdictions including Atlantic City.
It's part of an expensive, multimedia blitz that the union is conducting in its battle with the two casinos owned and operated by the Harrah's Entertainment Inc. gambling empire.
At issue are the UAW's claims that the casinos are stalling in negotiations with employees who in 2007 voted to unionize. The union also is protesting what it describes as demotions and benefit cuts imposed at Bally's and Caesars.
To make its case and earn public sympathy, the UAW has undertaken a massive advertising campaign that includes spots on KYW-AM (1060) and WPVI-TV (Channel 6), as well as ads in the Press of Atlantic City and the Inquirer.
"What led to the ad campaign is: Two years is too long," said Milton Rosato, a UAW international representative, referring to the impasse in negotiations.
According to Rosato, although the two casinos are corporate siblings, the union's beefs are separate. With Caesars, he said, the problem is that talks have not been "productive or serious."
At next-door Bally's, management "has flat-out refused to bargain," he said. Instead, "they'd rather go to court" to challenge National Labor Relations Board rulings in the workers' favor, he said. "It's a violation of federal law."
Rosato placed the cost of the ad campaign in the multimillion-dollar range. Its dual purpose, he said, is to educate the public about the ongoing impasse, and to motivate the casinos' customers - many of whom are union members - to make their pro-worker feelings known to management.
"The public has a right to know how they're treating employees at these facilities," he said. "And the fact they cut benefits and health care, and that they don't seem to care about employees as much as they claim to.
"We want [customers] to call them and ask them to treat their workers fairly."
But Rosato added, the strategy is not designed to inspire a boycott of the gambling dens, at least not "at this time."
Meanwhile, what Rosato and the workers see as unfair labor practices, casino officials consider "good-faith" negotiating.
Reading from a prepared statement, Alyce Parker, vice president of public affairs for Harrah's Entertainment Inc.'s Atlantic City region, said:
"Several months ago, the United Auto Workers launched an aggressive ad campaign targeting Caesars and Bally's in an apparent attempt to disrupt our business at a time when the competitive and economic pressures are greater than Atlantic City has ever experienced.
"This campaign is a collection of misrepresentations of the facts. We decided it is important to set the record straight. After two years and more than 50 bargaining sessions, we have not yet agreed upon a contract that is reasonable, economically feasible and allows us to remain competitive.
"We will continue to bargain in good faith until we reach an agreement that enables us to manage the business appropriately, especially in this challenging time. We know it can be done. We've worked productively with many union partners for many years."
Parker said her company is returning fire with an advertising campaign of its own. "We've launched broadcast and newspaper ads in the Atlantic City market, and we will continue running radio and newspaper ads," she said.
Parker said she had "no hard data" to assess whether the union's media onslaught had hurt business.
She said paying for the counter-campaign would be a drain on company resources that would be better spent on luring the public to the two Boardwalk gaming halls. "We would rather market the amenities we have," she said, "and showcase what we have to offer for the summer season."
The UAW also represents workers at the Trump Plaza and Tropicana casinos, but those contract talks have been tied up by the bankruptcy of the Plaza's corporate parent, Trump Entertainment Resorts, and the pending sale of the Tropicana.