Casino union protests Taj Mahal benefit cuts outside Carl Icahn's office in New York City

Industries Associated Press

Atlantic City casino workers demonstrated outside the New York City offices of billionaire investor Carl Icahn on Thursday to protest the elimination of benefits at a casino he is poised to acquire.

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Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union tried to hand-deliver a letter to Icahn. He is taking over the bankrupt Trump Entertainment Resorts, which owns the Trump Taj Mahal casino.

But they only got as far as the front desk, where a worker said he would take the letter to Icahn.

A bankruptcy judge in October let the company end health insurance and pension coverage for Taj Mahal workers, who have been fighting unsuccessfully since then to get Icahn to sign a new contract.

"I feel like we made our point," said Valerie McMorris, a cocktail server at the Taj Mahal for 25 years. "We were loud and proud on the street right in front of his offices."

A union organizer said about 100 members participated in the protest.

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As the demonstration was ending, McMorris went back inside the building to hand a Trump pen to the security guard who had accepted the letter to Icahn.

"I asked him to hand the pen to Mr. Icahn along with the letter, so that when he's ready to sign a contract with us, he'll have a pen to sign it with," she said.

The letter played off written communications Icahn exchanged with the union last year in which the billionaire invoked his youth of the hardscrabble streets of New York City.

"You may be someone who came up through the streets of Queens, and you may see yourself as the underdog fighting against entrenched corporate executives," the letter read. "But this time, you aren't fighting executives with multimillion-dollar salaries and expense accounts. This time you are fighting housekeepers, bartenders, food servers, bell people, cooks and cocktail servers. This time you aren't fighting for the little guy, you are fighting the little guy."

Icahn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He put up $20 million in December to keep the casino open when it was within days of closing, and has said he is willing to take over Trump Entertainment Resorts — which he considers a bad business deal — to save the Taj Mahal's 3,000 jobs.

New Jersey legislators said Icahn's refusal to sign a new deal with the union was a major reason why a package of bills designed to help Atlantic City's casinos and the city's municipal finances was yanked at the last minute before a scheduled vote in December. Its key provision would let casinos make payments in lieu of taxes for 15 years in return for giving up their right to file tax appeals.

Some lawmakers said it was politically impossible to approve a package that could give Icahn's casinos — he also owns the Tropicana — a tax break even as he refuses to restore worker benefits.

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