Union president hopes to get a new contract to avoid a strike

The contract between members of Atlantic City’s largest casino union and 10 casinos was expired Tuesday, but both sides have agreed to continue negotiations under an extended contract, The Press of Atlantic City reported.

As part of the agreement, Local 54 of UNITE-HERE and casino owners still have the right to cancel the extension with seven days' notice, union President Bob McDevitt said in an e-mail to the newspaper.

While the potential for a strike would be on the table if contract talks were to break down, McDevitt said he is optimistic about getting a contract resolved sooner.

That potential result would be markedly different from 2004, when talks ended two weeks after the contract expired and the union called for a strike.

In 2004, some 10,000 workers, including food servers, housekeepers and dishwashers, walked off the job for more than a month at seven casinos until their demands were largely met. Like then, wages and health care costs are again at stake, but this time the negotiations are taking place with the recession as a backdrop.

Negoations this time around began Sept. 2 with three casino owners: Harrah's Entertainment Inc., Trump Entertainment Resorts Inc. and Tropicana Casino and Resort. Together, they own eight of the city's 11 casinos and are proposing three-year contracts with wage freezes each year and cuts in how much they contribute to employees' health care and pension benefits.

The union's contract committee is putting together a counterproposal, with talks resuming late next week, McDevitt told the paper.

Local 54 also must negotiate with two other casinos, Atlantic City Hilton Casino Resort and Resorts Atlantic City. A separate contract already was reached last year for 2,500 workers at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and the adjoining Water Club hotel.