ATLANTIC CITY - More than 700 members of Unite Here Local 54, the union that represents most casino workers, let Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. know how they feel Wednesday about proposed cuts to their health care and pension plans.
They staged a "civil disobedience" march starting around 5:30 p.m., blocking traffic at the busy downtown intersection of Arkansas and Arctic Avenues and causing massive gridlock. About two dozen people were arrested and charged with resisting an officer's order or blocking traffic, or both.
When asked for comment regarding the protest, Trump Entertainment declined.
Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor known for buying distressed properties, controls the fate of Trump Entertainment because he owns $286 million in first-lien debt and stands first in line to be paid in any deal to take the company out of bankruptcy.
As a condition of keeping the Trump Taj Mahal open, Icahn wants massive concessions from labor and government.
Under the proposal detailed Friday in a motion to reject Local 54's collective bargaining agreement with the Taj Mahal, union members would have their pension replaced with a 401(k) plan, and lose their company-paid health insurance.
With "this issue, you cut Atlantic City by pushing its workers into poverty - [it] isn't going to work," Robert McDevitt, president of the local, said at the march. "That's what Trump Entertainment and Tropicana [also owned by Icahn] are proposing. [Icahn] is trying to take advantage of the meltdown in Atlantic City and to scare all the workers."
"It's unbelievable to me that the union is somehow blaming me that the Taj may close," Icahn said last week in a statement.
For Michelle Brown, 36, of Atlantic City, who has been working at Harrah's in the Marina for 16 years and now is in charge of public areas and lobbies, the issue is cut and dried. She supports herself and her 16-year-old son on her paycheck and health plan.
"We want to support all our union members," Brown said.
As she marched, she and the others chanted, "No contract, no peace! No health plan, no peace!"
The union, which has been trying to help nearly 8,000 workers who have been displaced by four casino closures this year, said it requested six-month contract extensions from all the casinos it represents in Atlantic City. The only casinos to reject the request were Taj Mahal and Tropicana, McDevitt said. He said Borgata, the three Caesars casinos, Golden Nugget, and Resorts were all on board.
Even with the $85 million in total annual savings proposed and $100 million from Icahn, the investor's lawyers warned in a letter that the casino is still likely to "continue suffering significant operating losses," especially through the slow winter months.
Under the plan, Icahn would forgive a portion of the debt in exchange for equity plus new debt that would not charge interest, saving Trump Entertainment $37.4 million a year in interest payments.
In addition to the interest savings and $14.6 million in union-related cuts, the plan depends on $3.5 million in savings from nonunion workers, $29.8 million in property-tax relief from Atlantic City, and $25 million in aid from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority or another government entity.
Mayor Don Guardian said last week that the city cannot afford to give the Taj the property-tax break.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority executive director, John Palmieri, declined to comment Wednesday on the $25 million being sought from his agency.
Trump Entertainment said every aspect of the proposed restructuring plan was needed to keep the Taj open.
"It's not going to happen," said Jay Eger, 55, a bartender at the Golden Nugget. "If the Taj signs that, it will set a precedent for the rest."
The Revel Casino Hotel was sold last week at an auction for $110 million to a unit of Brookfield Asset Management, which owns casinos in the Bahamas and Las Vegas. The company has said it wants to reopen Revel as a casino.