- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 3, 2004

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Leaving gamblers high and dry, bartenders and cocktail waitresses from seven casinos walked off the job with the hotels’ other workers, vowing not to return until they all have a new contract.

Thousands of members of Local 54 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union went on strike Friday, rallying outside their workplaces.

Though the workers carried signs reading “No Contract, No Peace,” police reported no arrests and no incidents of violence.

“We don’t want to be out here; we want to be in there, making money,” said Carol Knowles, a 19-year cocktail server at Bally’s Atlantic City. “But we need our contract, and we need our benefits.”

The union’s 17,000 members had worked without a contract for more than two weeks, since their five-year contract expired Sept. 15. The workers are seeking a three-year contract, protection against the use of nonunion restaurant workers, and casino-funded health care.

Friday’s exodus of about 10,000 workers — the bartenders and cocktail servers plus cooks, banquet servers, bellmen and housekeepers — left not only gamblers in the lurch.

Casino executives, midlevel managers and other nonunion workers found themselves scrubbing toilets, making beds and waiting tables. Among them was Timothy Wilmott, the $1.2 million-a-year chief operating officer of Harrah’s Entertainment. He was seen serving water to customers.

“My hands smell like cleanser. It’s humbling,” said another replacement, after working a 12-hour shift cleaning rooms and parking cars. “I’ve gained new respect for the people who do this work all the time,” said the woman, who did not want her name published.

The union reached an agreement with representatives of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts late Thursday, averting a strike at Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Marina and Trump Plaza casinos. The Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa and the Sands Hotel-Casino also are unaffected by the strike.

Harrah’s planned to fly in hundreds of employees from other states to relieve replacement workers, said Dave Jonas, vice president of Atlantic City operations.

Hana Aizenfratz, 54, of New York, took a break from the slots at Bally’s Atlantic City just after 7 a.m. Friday, hoping against hope for some breakfast.

When she got to the casino’s coffee shop, there was a sign saying it was closed because of the strike.

“This stinks,” she said. “How can they let this happen on a weekend?”

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