Workers' Union Backtracks on Casino-Saving Deal

The owners of the Trump Taj Mahal casino say Atlantic City's main casino workers' union has reneged on a deal to keep the casino open and save its 3,000 jobs.

In a letter sent Thursday to Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union, Trump Entertainment Resorts CEO Bob Griffin gave the union until 5 p.m. Monday to drop its appeal of a bankruptcy court-ordered cost-reduction package that canceled employee health insurance and pension plans. Griffin says he thought the company and the union agreed to a deal earlier this week but says the union hasn't signed it.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn plans to take over the company in return for canceling $286 million of its debt, which he owns, but only if he receives significant tax breaks. A package of financial and tax assistance for Atlantic City government and its eight casinos is advancing through the state legislature.

"Two days ago, we actually thought we had reached a deal with you and the state," Griffin wrote. "Every one of your demands was met, and Mr. Icahn, believing that you and the state supported the deal, even delivered his executed signature page. But even though that deal would have kept the Taj open, restored the union health care, restored the union work rules and established a new pension fund, you still didn't sign."

McDevitt declined to comment.

The company is threatening to close the Taj Mahal--its last remaining casino--on Dec. 20. Griffin's letter did not say whether the company will definitely close the casino if Monday's deadline to withdraw the union appeal is not met. Griffin told The Associated Press he does not know if that deadline would trigger an irrevocable decision to close on Dec. 20, but he added, "I am working every day to close on Dec. 20."

In his letter to McDevitt, Griffin said the company has put off a final decision about whether the Taj Mahal will close or remain open for as long as it could.

"You have put us in a terrible position," Griffin wrote to McDevitt. "Please, Bob. This is our final opportunity to help people. Time is running out and money is running short. We simply cannot stay in limbo any longer. Every day, fewer and fewer people patronize the Taj, and we lose more and more of what little money we have left. We just cannot wait any longer."

The Atlantic City relief plan, introduced last week by State Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. James Whelan, a former Atlantic City mayor, would let the casinos collectively pay $150 million in lieu of taxes for two years. It would redirect an investment alternative tax--currently used for redevelopment projects--to help pay off $25 million to $30 million of Atlantic City's debt a year, and create a new category of school aid applicable only to Atlantic City.

It was approved by a Senate committee and is now before the full Senate.

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