A union representing 10,000 striking casino-hotel workers tentatively agreed to a new contract late Monday, ending a bitter month-old walkout that disrupted casino operations, made gamblers sleep in unmade beds and put rank-and-file workers onto noisy picket lines.
After more than 12 hours of closed-door meetings, the contract committee of Local 54 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees voted overwhelmingly to accept a five-year contract offer, setting the stage for a vote by rank-and-file members on Wednesday.
If they agree to it, workers could return to their jobs as soon as Thursday, officially closing the book on the longest strike in Atlantic City casino history.
“After a long and difficult labor dispute, the parties have reached a tentative agreement, and we look forward to the members of Local 54 returning to work,” said Brian Cahill, spokesman for Caesars Entertainment, which owns Bally’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and the Atlantic City Hilton.
“It’s a victory for Atlantic City,” said union President Robert McDevitt.
The union — which represents bartenders, cocktail servers, housekeepers and other service employees but not dealers — backed off its insistence on a three-year deal that would have expired at the same time as unions at casino properties in Las Vegas and Detroit.
Representatives of the casinos refused to agree to a three-year deal, fearing the common expiration dates would give the union the power to cripple the operations of casino companies with operations in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City, such as Harrah’s Entertainment, Caesars Entertainment and Aztar Corp.
The union didn’t get what it wanted on that score, but the contract proposal calls for significant gains in wages and benefits, in addition to protections from the casinos’ practice of leasing space to non-union restaurants and bars.
Under the agreement, the union said, members would get:
- A 28.3 percent increase in the total “economic package” over five years, which includes boosts in wages and pension contributions.
- Continuation of fully funded health care, sparing union members from having to contribute to their insurance through payroll deductions.
- Protection of members and their union when a casino changes ownership.
Representatives of Harrah’s Entertainment and Aztar Corp. did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment on the contract agreement early Tuesday.
“We said from the beginning our goal was to maintain our standard of living and ensure that middle-class jobs in Atlantic City’s gaming industry were here to stay,” McDevitt said. “We achieved all that and more.”
The union went on strike Oct. 1 at seven of the 12 Atlantic City casino-hotels, turning operations in the 24-hour gambling halls upside down.
Restaurants closed, highly paid executives went to work making beds and gamblers had to endure noisy picket lines, cuts in housekeeping services and lines at restaurants that remained open.
The casinos, though, never stopped taking bets, though some gamblers decided to steer clear of the sign-waving pickets who maintained a 24-hour presence outside the buildings.
While revenue figures for the month — quantifying the amount of lost business — have yet to be released, the strike was clearly bad for business.
Gamblers complained about messy hotel rooms, public restrooms and long lines, and employees who weren’t on strike worked long hours doing double duty.
In addition, casino customers had to cope with traffic headaches during an Oct. 8 sit-in at a midtown intersection — 85 were arrested — and an Oct. 16 march that saw about 10,000 people parade along Pacific Avenue, the city’s casino strip.