- Associated Press - Monday, July 4, 2016

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Striking Atlantic City casino workers are using the Fourth of July holiday to highlight their struggle against billionaire Carl Icahn, who owns the Trump Taj Mahal casino.

Customers have been crossing picket lines in large numbers since Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union walked off the job Friday, but the union vows to picket around the clock until a new contract is reached.

The main issue in the strike is the termination of union members’ health insurance and pension benefits by previous owners. Icahn had offered to restore health care, but not to a level the union deemed sufficient, prompting the strike.

“We beat the King of England 240 years ago and defeated tyranny,” striking Taj Mahal worker Bart Rodgers yelled through a megaphone outside the casino. “Today we are fighting the King of Wall Street. We will defeat Carl Icahn’s tyranny! Stand up, America, for workers’ rights!”

Icahn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But when the strike began, his management team noted that Icahn had spent $86 million keeping the Taj Mahal afloat during bankruptcy “when no one else was willing to invest even $1.”

The benefit cuts were made in October 2014 by previous owner Trump Entertainment Resorts. Though he did not own the casino yet, Icahn had acquired most of the company’s outstanding debt and was financing it during bankruptcy.

The Taj Mahal was opened in 1990 by Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but he has not owned it for years. He cut most ties with the company in 2009 aside from a 10 percent stake in return for the use of his name. That ownership interest was wiped out in bankruptcy when Icahn took control of the company in March.

Lee Martin took a job at the Taj Mahal three weeks before the strike, and now finds himself walking a picket line.

“I’m pumped up, fired up,” he said. “I’m proud to be out here with my fellow workers doing what we believe is right for the little man. I might not have a job when this is over, but I don’t care. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Martin said he was somewhat surprised by how many people crossed picket lines to enter the casino during the holiday weekend, but predicted that number will fall as the strike wears on.

“I think there will be a lot less,” he said. “We made a dent in this.”

Follow Wayne Parry at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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