Atlantic City casinos and workers try to avoid a 4th of July strike

Bally’s and the Ocean Casino Resort have reached “me-too” agreements with the union, where they go along with the terms of contracts reached with five casinos.

Two other properties — Golden Nugget and Resorts — are not affected by the strike authorization. However, according to Atlantic City Travel Alert, a website operated by the union, the two casinos are “at risk of dispute.”

Inconvenient timing

The labor dispute comes as Atlantic City casinos are continuing to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, casinos won $233 million in May, a 9.3% increase over the same month in 2021.

The proposed strike date also falls on one of the busiest weekends of the year in Atlantic City.

“The union picked that date to ratify their contract for that very reason,” said Jane Bokunewicz, director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism. “It gives them leverage that it’s right before the holiday weekend.”

She adds that it will be hard to predict how much of an impact a strike will have on the properties.

“You don’t know how many people will stay away, how well the management will be able to run the properties and keep them operating,” Bokunewicz said. “It’s hard to put a number [or] a percentage on it, but it will definitely have an impact for sure.”

A strike would also affect workers, she added, because the holiday weekend is a big time to earn tips.

“A lot of employees make most of their money — hospitality employees, especially — during the busy summer season because the tips are higher,” Bokunewicz said. “There’s more people and they can really make a lot of money on a Fourth of July weekend.”

The last major strike to hit the Jersey Shore resort city happened Oct. 1, 2004, when nearly 10,000 hotel and restaurant workers walked off the job and onto the picket line for more than a month.

Bokunewicz said none of the casinos involved at the time were closed.

“They had management employees, nonunion employees, and union employees that cross the picket line that continued to run the properties,” she noted. “They did restrict some of their operations, so they might have opened only two key restaurants instead of their full complement of restaurants.”

Eighteen years later, casinos are having a hard time filling available jobs. Before the pandemic, about 26,000 people were working in the casino industry. That number is now down to about 22,000.

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