- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) - Atlantic City’s main casino workers union is threatening to go on strike against five of the city’s eight casinos on July 1 unless a new contract is reached by then. The union is seeking to recoup benefits and compensation it gave back to the casinos in past negotiations when the gambling houses were in dire shape.

A look at the major issues, and the impact a walkout is likely to have on the casinos, the workers and the city:

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THE ISSUE

The strike threat by Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union involves trying to get back things it gave up or did without in past negotiations. That includes health and pension benefits, vacation and other time off, and of course, salary. The union says that its members have seen their salaries increase by only 80 cents per hour since 2004 and that it’s time to ensure a decent living wage for members.

The casinos are just starting to see their finances stabilize after a horrendous period that saw four of Atlantic City’s 12 casinos shut down in 2014 amid competition in neighboring states. But Atlantic City could soon have competition within its own borders: New Jersey voters will decide in November whether to authorize two new casinos near New York City. A study commissioned by Resorts Casino Hotel for an anti-expansion group predicts that northern New Jersey casinos would cause three to five of Atlantic City’s eight casinos to close. A study by an independent Wall Street firm predicted as many as four could close.

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THE PLAYERS

Local 54 has just under 10,000 members who do jobs including serving drinks, carrying luggage, preparing food and cleaning hotel rooms. The strike would target three casinos owned by Caesars Entertainment - Bally’s, Caesars and Harrah’s - and two owned by billionaire investor Carl Icahn - Tropicana and the Trump Taj Mahal. The other three casinos - Borgata, Golden Nugget and Resorts - have been given an indefinite extension by the union, which says talks with those casinos are making progress.

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THE EFFECT

Likely, both sides get hurt. The union’s last strike, in 2004, lasted 34 days. Thousands of workers would be without a paycheck, though the union has amassed a strike fund to make cash payments to striking members. The casinos rely on Local 54 workers to do the daily chores that keep resort hotels open, and would either have to hire replacement workers, or use management to fill in and possibly keep parts of their properties closed.

While some gamblers undoubtedly will cross picket lines to make bets and stay in hotels, many others will not. Ben Begleiter, a union spokesman, predicts, “The losses in revenue to the casinos will very quickly eclipse the cost of restoring benefits and giving people a fair raise.” Casino executives have declined to comment on their preparations for a strike, other than to say they hope a fair contract can be negotiated before then.

But casino analyst Steve Norton, who was vice president of Resorts when it became the first casino to open outside Nevada in 1978, says there are plenty of laid-off casino workers available to hire during a strike.

“It’s time for Unite-HERE leadership to take a few courses in finance because they certainly don’t understand what is underway in Atlantic City,” he said.

And any bad experiences that customers have during a strike likely won’t be forgotten if they soon have a new in-state gambling option in northern New Jersey.

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THE CITY AND THE REGION

Atlantic City is already teetering on the edge of financial ruin as it struggles to fight off a state takeover. Having many more of its residents jobless and unable to make tax payments - let alone shop at local stores - would only further hurt the seaside resort. A sizable police presence also would be required during public events like picketing or demonstrations, which also costs money.

Many more casino workers live in the suburban communities around Atlantic City, and they, too, will suddenly be less able to pay the taxes and the bills and support their local economies. And even before a strike, the Atlantic City region already leads the nation in home foreclosures.

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

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