ATLANTIC CITY, NJ (AP) — As Atlantic City casinos struggle to recover financially of the coronavirus pandemic, the workers who keep these casinos running are trying to do the same.
The main union representing casino workers in Atlantic City told The Associated Press that it wants “significant” wage increases as part of the talks currently underway.
The goal is to keep workers from falling behind in an economy where labor shortages are raising wages in other industries, but inflation is eating away at consumers’ purchasing power.
Existing contracts with eight of the nine casinos expire on May 31; the Ocean Casino Resort worked without a union contract but complied with its conditions.
Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite Here union, said casino workers – like their employers – are looking to improve their finances in the third year of the pandemic.
“We intend to move our workers more firmly into the middle class,” he said. Unionized workers began wearing buttons on their uniforms last week that say “Casino workers need a raise.”
Bethany Holmes, spokeswoman for the union, said it had not signed a new contract with Las Vegas casinos in the past two years.
The union has not specified the amount of the increase it is asking for. But McDevitt said that must be enough to allow workers not only to keep pace with rising spending, but also to gain ground and improve their situation.
Janey Negron, a bartender at the Tropicana for 22 years, has five children and also takes care of her mother.
“Wages aren’t where they should be,” said Negron, who lives in Egg Harbor Township near Atlantic City. “Everything goes up: gasoline, food, rent. Health care costs for my mother and children are rising on their own. It’s not like (casinos) can’t do it. They are making money and we have helped them through the pandemic. They should compensate us for this.
Rodney Mills is a housekeeper at Tropicana, where he has worked for 30 years. He is a single parent of children aged 3, 5 and 7 following the death of their mother last September and relies on the help of his parents.
“I don’t have a vehicle or a home — two things I need to provide stability to my family,” Mills said. “Increases need to happen at all levels.”
In fact, they are already in many casinos. McDevitt, the union’s president, acknowledged that many casinos had unilaterally increased workers’ wages beyond the levels specified in existing contracts; these additional payments are on average around 10% more than what is stipulated in the contract.
Among them was Hard Rock.
“We just gave raises to our employees before negotiations,” said Joe Lupo, president of Hard Rock. He said his casino and others realize that higher salaries are needed to attract new employees and retain existing ones.
Bill Callahan, general manager of Ocean Casino, said he “hopes to have a ratified agreement in the next few days” that will result in pay increases for many employees.
Executives at four other casinos did not respond to requests for comment.
The union also plans to address what it says is a shortage of key casino workers, including cleaners, a job that McDevitt says has at least 500 openings in the city.
The focus on higher wages represents a shift for the union, which over the decades has prioritized comprehensive health insurance and pensions over big pay rises, McDevitt said.
He said the casino industry is showing strength in the third year of the pandemic, helped by strong performances in the internet gambling and sports betting industries. Last year, according to the state’s Division of Gaming Enforcement, casinos earned more than $4.2 billion in combined casino, online, and sports betting revenue.
But casino executives have long said that sports and online betting revenue streams aren’t what they seem, as casinos only keep around 30% of that money, with the rest going to third-party vendors. .
They argue that the money earned by players in person on their premises is a more accurate indication of the health of the industry. Last year’s in-person revenue was $2.5 billion, which is below the level in 2019, before the pandemic hit.
McDevitt said he was optimistic that new contracts with the casinos could be closed quickly, and Lupo echoed McDevitt’s assessment of the working relationship between the union and the casinos as positive.
Follow Wayne Parry on Twitter at twitter.com/WayneParryAC