Taj Mahal casino offers to restore workers' health care, asks union to drop appeal

Industries Associated Press

The Trump Taj Mahal casino is offering to restore health insurance to its workers as part of a last-ditch effort to keep the struggling Atlantic City casino open.

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Trump Entertainment Resorts said Saturday it has offered to restore health insurance to its 3,000 workers for at least two years if the union will drop its appeal of a court order that canceled the health insurance and pension plan for casino workers. It made the offer in a letter to Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE casino workers union.

Company president Robert Griffin told McDevitt the casino plans to close Dec. 12 and that the shutdown process will accelerate next week. But he says if the union withdraws its appeal, the Taj will remain open.

"Given that health care is the most important piece of your agenda, we have found a way to restore full health care to Local 54 employees at the Taj," Griffin wrote. "As a result, we cannot think of any reason why you would not accept the ... proposal and allow the Taj to stay open and to save jobs."

Atlantic City started the year with 12 casinos. The Taj Mahal would be the fifth to close this year amid decreasing revenues and increased competition from neighboring states. If it shutters, the 3,000 workers would join some 8,000 other Atlantic City casino workers who have lost their jobs this year.

In addition to restoring health care for at least two years, the company is offering to contribute to a proposed new pension plan the union had discussed during negotiations. In return, the union would have to withdraw its appeal of an Oct. 17 bankruptcy court order canceling the union's contract with the Taj Mahal, freeing the casino from costly health care and pension obligations.

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McDevitt declined to comment on the letter. In recent weeks, he led three high-profile demonstrations against the planned shutdown of the Taj Mahal and billionaire investor Carl Icahn's role in it.

The union's grievances extend beyond the termination of health care and pension plans. The company also wants to eliminate paid meal breaks and raise productivity quotas for some workers, which would have the effect of reducing their total compensation.

Trump Entertainment is pursuing a complicated plan to save the casino by transferring ownership to Icahn, who would pump $100 million into it. That investment is contingent on getting city or state officials to sign off on $175 million in assistance. New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney and Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian have rejected that request, and Gov. Chris Christie was decidedly cool to it at a forum Wednesday on the city's future.

In his letter to the union, Griffin wrote that, "We have made significant progress in our discussions with representatives of the state and local governments on a package of property tax relief and other incentives, which gives us confidence we will be able to keep the Taj Mahal open if you accept the ... proposal."

"There is nothing to be gained from the appeal," Griffin wrote. "Even if Local 54 wins, the Taj Mahal will remain closed and Local 54 will have gained nothing."

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC