Atlantic City casino workers arrested in protest over benefit cuts

Workers even lost paid lunch breaks

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (Reuters) — Hundreds of workers mobilized by their union protested on Wednesday outside the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where nearly 70 demonstrators were arrested as they denounced court-approved cuts to benefits for employees at the hard-hit casino, officials said.

The protest over the cuts sought by billionaire investor Carl Icahn in exchange for keeping the establishment open comes at a time when the Jersey Shore resort cityis suffering as gambling revenue drops and casinos close.

Atlantic City casinos generated about US$2.74 billion in betting revenue last year, down 4.5 per cent for the year and well below the US$5.2 billion peak in 2006 before neighboring states allowed casinos to open. Four Atlantic City casinos closed last year, with the Taj Mahal narrowly surviving after a cash infusion from Icahn.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Taj Mahal, where they chanted with classic rock music blaring from nearby loud speakers. Police arrested some demonstrators who formed a ring blocking an intersection.

In all, 68 people were arrested for refusing to obey an official order to move, said Atlantic City police spokeswoman Sergeant Monica McMenamin.

Protester Charles Baker, a relief cook at the Taj Mahal, said he felt it was time to stand up against benefit cuts.

"I can get a job anywhere," Baker said. "I need a job with benefits. I can't afford to buy healthcare."

The local chapter of the union UNITE HERE, which organized the protest, said the cuts took an unreasonable toll on casino staff.

"The workers lost their health insurance, retirement security, job security and even their paid lunch breaks," said Ben Begleiter, a spokesman for Local 54 of UNITE HERE which represents food and beverage and housekeeping employees, among others.

Trump Entertainment Resorts, which is no longer controlled by developer and presidential candidate Donald Trump, expressed disappointment with the rally.

"Taj employees do not benefit from this type of disruptive conduct," the company said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that Local 54 leadership is willing to sacrifice the wages and tips of its members by actively attempting to persuade customers and conventions to boycott the Taj Mahal."

Hundreds of casino workers joined a similar protest in October, and 24 were arrested for blocking streets.

Icahn owns the Tropicana Casino & Resort at the other end of Atlantic City's boardwalk.

The investor could not be reached for comment after the protest.

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