Taj Mahal casino wants judge to order union to admit letters to customers were misleading

Economic Indicators Associated Press

The owners of Atlantic City's Trump Taj Mahal casino are accusing the city's main casino workers' union of hiding behind federal labor law and the First Amendment to wage "economic warfare" against the struggling gambling resort.

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A bankruptcy judge in Delaware will consider a request Wednesday by Trump Entertainment Resorts to force Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union to acknowledge that letters it sent to Taj Mahal customers urging them to take their business elsewhere were misleading. The casino wants the union to be compelled to write to everyone it contacted, admitting its prior communication with them was not accurate.

The union says its communications are protected free speech, claiming a federal law called the Norris-LaGuardia Act prohibits federal courts from barring publicity regarding a labor dispute.

The campaign began shortly before the judge granted Trump Entertainment's request in October to cancel the union contract at the Taj Mahal and impose the company's terms. It involved the union calling or sending letters to groups that had booked events at the Taj Mahal, advising them of the labor dispute between the casino and the union, and urging them to patronize other casinos instead. Some groups did cancel.

In a recent court filing, Trump Entertainment said the union believes federal labor law and the First Amendment "provide it carte blanche to engage in economic warfare" against the casino in retaliation for the court-ordered cancellation of the union contract.

"Federal labor law and the First Amendment provide no shelter for the union," Trump Entertainment wrote. The company said the union has acknowledged in court filings that the purpose of its campaign "was not simply to inform, but to discourage patronage," and that the campaign is an "economic weapon" to pressure the company.

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In its response, the union said it is exercising its free speech rights.

Contacting customers of a casino with which it is engaged in a dispute is a time-honored tactic of Local 54. It used similar tactics to dissuade clients of the Tropicana Casino Resort and Resorts Casino Hotel during contract disputes in the last seven years.

The union is appealing the rejection of the union contract, which also canceled employee health care and pension plans.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who owns the Tropicana, is in the process of taking over Trump Entertainment by swapping $286 million of its debt that he owns in return for ownership of the company. He has put up $20 million to keep it operating through bankruptcy, but has repeatedly vowed he will close the casino if the previous union contract, which he calls unaffordable, is reinstated.

Trump Entertainment had repeatedly threatened to close the Taj Mahal last fall and winter, until Icahn agreed to provide temporary financing for it.

Neither Trump Entertainment nor union officials would comment Tuesday beyond what was contained in their respective court filings.

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