ATLANTIC CITY - The casino union that represents about 1,100 workers at the struggling Trump Taj Mahal picked up Friday where it left off last fall.
Members of Unite Here Local 54 were back outside the casino, which had emerged from bankruptcy the day before, chanting and holding signs to protest what the union calls the continued stripping down of worker rights and benefits by the casino's new billionaire owner, Carl Icahn.
Local 54 president Bob McDevitt said at the protest that the union representing about 10,000 casino workers in the city continues to appeal the ruling by a federal bankruptcy judge that nullified the contract between the union and Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc., which owns the Taj Mahal and the shuttered Trump Plaza.
The Oct. 17 ruling by Judge Kevin Gross stripped away company-paid health care and replaced pension plans with 401(k)s. That ruling, Icahn argued, would save him about $14.8 million. Icahn threatened several times last year to close the Taj if he did not win concessions from the union. He said the casino was bleeding millions of dollars per month.
"Until Carl Icahn decides to operate in Atlantic City with ethics, he's not going to be successful," McDevitt said amid a long line of protesters just after 6 p.m. "We are going to prevent that from happening.
"He's not going to run a slave-trade shop with no benefits and health care" for workers, McDevitt said. "It's not going to happen. We will continue to tell [Taj] customers, and he will fail."
Attempts to reach Icahn on Friday were unsuccessful.
About 300 people - a little more than half the number who attended a similar protest last fall - turned out Friday afternoon, the number swelling to 400 after 5 p.m.
"Icahn has taken away my health benefits [and] pension," said Paul Smith, 46, of Ventnor, a single father of two who has worked as a cook at the Taj for 21 years. "It's disgusting."
Lynette Doelp, 55, a cocktail waitress at the Taj since it opened on April 2, 1990, said, "We really need to support our families. We want respect." She was holding a sign that read, "Everybody de$erve$ a nest egg."
"I was going to try to retire in five years," Doelp, of Ventnor, said. "This whole deal with him pushed us so far backward. I'm married with two kids, and that's why I need health care. Obamacare doesn't work for me. It's too expensive."
McDevitt said the typical Taj casino worker made $11.70 an hour, about $23,000 a year, supplemented by "generous" health benefits that covered families, and a pension plan. He said Icahn's proposal would strip all benefits from a Taj job and create "a poverty workforce."
Under Icahn's plan, McDevitt said, each worker would be given a few thousand dollars for health care, which after taxes comes out to about $1,500 - not enough, he said, to buy even the lowest-level family health plan with a $5,000 deductible.
On Monday, Icahn settled a lawsuit with Donald Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, over the right to keep using the Trump name on the Taj Mahal. He is to make renovations by March 2017 to bring the casino up to Trump-brand standards. In exchange, the court ruled, the licensing agreement between Trump and Trump Entertainment Resorts - to use his name on the casino - remains.
"We're happy to have reached a deal with Carl - a friend and someone who my father and I have great respect for," Ivanka Trump said in a statement Friday. "The Taj Mahal, under the right leadership and with the proposed significant reinvestment in the property, can be, once again, a wonderful place for travel and entertainment."
During Thursday's hearing in Wilmington, Gross, who earlier ruled on the health-care and pension issue, said, "The Taj will remain open. And it will be a successful venture."
Icahn also owns the Tropicana on the south end of the Boardwalk.
At Friday's protest, McDevitt, the union president, urged Icahn: "Come on, Carl. Show us you're a human being and give us a contract."
"My son broke his arm and tore ligaments last year, and without health care, we'd be bankrupt," said Lori Krol, 50, of Williamstown. Her husband, Michael, 50, has been a room-service waiter at the Taj since 1990. She said that his health-care benefits at the Taj at the time covered most of the $60,000 in medical costs, and that the couple paid about $2,000 out of pocket.
As the couple marched, Lori Krol held a sign that depicted Icahn in an elf outfit, with the words: "Greedy lepreCAHN keeps taking from the needy."