ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Thousands of casino workers and supporters from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania -- and some from as far away as Maine, Indiana and Michigan -- filled the streets of Atlantic City for more than three hours today.
The spirited demonstration -- which included a strong message of support from presidential candidate Barack Obama -- was called to back union members at four of the city's biggest casinos. Dealers, slot technicians and keno and simulcast employees voted by large majorities to join the UAW starting more than a year ago, but still do not have signed labor agreements.
"What a great day!" said Chun Zhu, a casino dealer at Bally's. "For everybody working in the casinos fighting to get a contract, it means a lot to see thousands of people marching with us."
"I think the casinos really got our message," said Sharon Masino, a dealer at Caesar's. "We voted, we won -- and now it's way past time to negotiate a contract that delivers good wages and decent health care, so we can take care of ourselves and our families."
A long parade of marchers, stretching for several city blocks, streamed past the city's major casinos following a rally which featured New Jersey Gov. John Corzine, Sen. Robert Menendez and a wide range of elected officials, labor leaders and community representatives.
A highlight of the event was the message from Obama, which drew loud cheers when it was read to the marchers by Sen. Menendez.
"I encourage the employers in the gaming industry and the UAW negotiators to come together," said Obama, "and to recognize that work should be rewarded with a few basic guarantees, such as quality, affordable health care when you get sick; fair treatment in the workplace and wages that can raise a family; and a dignified and secure retirement."
"We marched with a united labor movement today, to stand up for democracy in the workplace," said UAW President Ron Gettelfinger. "We also had tremendous support from community leaders and elected officials from both political parties. Casino owners heard us loud and clear. Our members in Atlantic City will have the backing and the resources they need to win the contracts they deserve."
"When the casino owners of Atlantic City decided to stonewall the dealers and slot technicians who voted overwhelmingly to join the UAW," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, "they had no idea they would be confronted with unions and workers from all over the Northeast -- workers from New York City who have their own struggle, union members from as far away as Detroit and Buffalo and Indiana."
"You can count on this: One million union members in New Jersey are going to stand with Atlantic City casino workers until all workers are covered by a union contract," said New Jersey AFL-CIO President Charlie Wowkanech.
The presidents of four international unions also joined the rally, backed by strong contingents of their respective members: Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union; Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers' International Union of North America; Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters; and Jimmy Williams, general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.
Members of Congress attending the rally included Rep. Joe Baca, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, New Jersey Reps. Rob Andrews and Bill Pascrell, both Democrats, and Reps. Frank LoBiondo and Chris Smith, both Republicans from New Jersey.
Since March 2007 casino dealers, slot technicians, keno and simulcast workers have organized and won six union representation elections at four major Atlantic City casinos: Caesars, Trump Plaza, Bally's and Tropicana. Casino workers, who are members of UAW/AC Dealers, have also successfully lobbied for the first-ever comprehensive smoking ban in a casino community, and have joined with their co-workers to advocate for workers' rights on the casino floor.
The UAW, one of the nation's largest and most diverse labor unions, represents more than 8,800 casino workers in Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey and Rhode Island.