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Meet The Immigrant Union Members Striking Against The Trump Taj Mahal

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Meet The Immigrant Union Members Striking Against The Trump Taj Mahal

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A striking union member from the Trump Taj Mahal

In the early morning hours on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, nearly a thousand hotel workers went on strike July 1 against the Trump Taj Mahal after negotiations broke down over night. The strike entered its sixth day on Wednesday.

In front of the hotel were two strikers, Kaushik and Bina Vashi, both immigrants from India and housekeepers in the local union, UNITE HERE 54. For eight years, husband and wife Kaushik, 62, and Bina, 49, have kept the beds clean at the Trump Taj Mahal. For them, immigrant networks have bolstered the power of union organizing.

Like many unions today, UNITE HERE is increasingly reliant on immigrants like the Vashis for strength. In New Jersey, 10 percent of UNITE HERE 54 is Indian, and many more are Latino. Union president Bob McDevitt announced in 2013 that the union supported rights for undocumented immigrants, quite the change from the days when unions fought for racial immigration quotas.

At stake in the current strike is healthcare. In the fall of 2014, workers at the Trump Taj Mahal lost their healthcare, union spokesman Ben Begleiter said. The company is not owned by Donald Trump, but by billionaire Carl Icahn. Other union workers at the Caesars, Bally’s, Harrah’s, and Tropicana hotels reached an agreement on healthcare before the Fourth of July weekend. Workers are looking for pay raises above their current rate, which is just below $12 an hour, the union said.

I first met Kaushik and Bina at a 2014 march against Icahn, shortly before they lost their healthcare. The pair invited me to their home after the demonstration. The two work the same shift, the same floor, sometimes even the same rooms. Somehow they manage to not drive each other crazy.

Many on the Boardwalk are scared for their jobs and have been for some time, Kaushik said. He took a drag from his cigarette as he and his wife drove home from work. He joined for the benefits, and definitely not for the wages, he said.

The giants of the Boardwalk have been dying since competition from the 20 casinos or slot parlors in neighboring states chopped profits, with four casinos closing in recent years.

They used to get $200 a week in tips, during the good days, Kaushik said. Now, they’re lucky to get one ­third of that. As we talked, Bina received a text message about a friend and co­worker whose response to the uncertainty was heading back to Bangladesh.

The Vashi’s car came to a halt near the Vaikunth Hindu­ Jain Temple of South Jersey. Every Monday and Sunday, Hindu workers from the casino come here, Bina told me. They come to pray and to eat, and talk about work and the union. At times, the immigrant hub becomes a space for impromptu organizing. “A lot of our coworkers cannot speak English,” Kaushik said. “Everyone knows me. They come to me.”

Unions today are staunch immigration supporters, even for undocumented rights. In a poll conducted in 2012, nearly two thirds of AFL­CIO members favored a law offering a path to citizenship. In Atlantic City, the union hall has hosted health and safety programs in Hindi, Gujarati, Chinese, and Spanish.

It’s quite a change from in the past, when unions believed every immigrant was further competition for jobs. From the late 19th century through the 1980s, unions were consistent in their opposition to immigration. During this period, led early on by leaders such as Samuel Gompers, the labor movement in America backed such measures as banning Chinese immigrants and supporting racial quotas on immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

Since then, unions have had less to lose. Unions in America have undergone a decline that can only be called a crisis. In the heydays of labor, almost 35 percent of workers belonged to a union. In 2015, only 11 percent did, labor’s lowest level since the Great Depression.

Even Local 54 has lost 35 percent of its members since 2004, Kaushik said, with many current union members near retirement age.

After work, Kaushik maintains a strict routine of watching Jeopardy and sleeping early. But when it comes to the union, he is outspoken, saying of his co­workers are immigrants living on the knife blade of poverty. “What kind of life do you want to live?” he said.

He turned on the TV news, and he and Bina watched a news report on continuing labor strife at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Photo: For immigrants like Kaushik and Bina Vashi, housekeepers on strike at the Trump Taj Mahal, the immigrant networks and union membership bolster each other in mutually beneficial ways. When it comes to the union, Kaushik is outspoken, knowing that many immigrants live on the knife blade of poverty. “What kind of life do you want to live?” he said. (Photo by J.p. Lawrence.)

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15 Comments

  1. Jean5623 July 7, 2016

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    1. Eleanore Whitaker July 7, 2016

      If you were making that kind of money, you wouldn’t need to be hawking others. Just another Dixiebelle or Corn Pone Queen tricked by Mr. Man into selling yourself?

    2. plc97477 July 7, 2016

      You must be turning a lot of tricks to make that in a month. When do you sleep?

    3. RED July 7, 2016

      Congratulations!! I see you’ve at least made an attempt to make scam appear more coherent. The usual post was pretty much garbage. But now with this new one, I got hope for ya, especially since Donald Trump is proving that there tons of ignorant Americans who are too stupid to recognize an obvious con when they see it. I expect you will do well. But I would suggest posting on the Con websites because those morons are dumb as dirt!

  2. itsfun July 7, 2016

    The author says: Unions today are staunch immigration supporters, even for undocumented
    rights.In a poll conducted in 2012, nearly two thirds of AFL­CIO members
    favored a law offering a path to citizenship. In Atlantic City, the
    union hall has hosted health and safety programs in Hindi, Gujarati,
    Chinese, and Spanish.

    My question is How many of these union members were immigrants either legal or illegal?

    Reply
    1. Eleanore Whitaker July 7, 2016

      I can answer that. I live in NJ. At the Taj and Trump’s other casino on the Marina, he hired a lot of immigrants who either had short term green cards or were undocumented.

      As for the AC union hall. Sorry but you don’t have any idea what you are talking about. First of all, the ONLY union members in AC are those who are independent contractors, not permanent full or part time casino employees. That’s why The Donald always hired ONLY immigrants. He knew he wasn’t going to set off any red flags with the NJ DOL and he also knew he could stiff these immigrants more easily than American workers because immigrants have no idea what the state and federal labor laws are.

      If ever you visited the Taj as I did back in the second year of its opening, you’d have seen even then, the only English speaking Americans were the croupiers at the casino tables and the clerks who worked the reception and hotel desks.

      I posted for six months that Trump was hiring immigrants. Now, suddenly it is big news?

      By the way, all of those small business owners who provided casino supplies were also stiffed and now they are suing. This is who these nuts want for a president?

      1. Dominick Vila July 7, 2016

        Great post! Thank you. There is definitely a huge disconnect between Trump’s rhetoric, especially on issues such as defending worker’s rights, and bringing jobs back to the USA, and what he has done throughout his life, including this issue, and running garment factories that make shirts, suits, and ties in countries like Bangladesh, China, and Mexico. The same goes for his hotels and golf courses worldwide. This guy is the biggest hypocrite to ever run for President, and his supporters, many of them blue collar workers, accept his promises at face value, and love his incoherent rhetoric.
        I blame the DNC for not exposing his duplicity, and letting him get away with all his lies.

        1. Eleanore Whitaker July 7, 2016

          I think I prefer the DNC to do what they do best: Let slimeballs trip over their own slime. It has worked every time.

          I am not in the least worried about Trump ever lasting more than 4 days into the RNC convention. He can’t even get the support of the Mutton Chops or Corn Pones in Congress.

          He’s as bad as Sanders at opening his big mouth and sticking his fool foot in it.

          Here in NJ, Trump has a long, long, long history of never finishing anything he starts successfully. That’s how his campaign will end too.

          All those people who worked or supplied his casinos have to do is lob a class action lawsuit against him and he’s gone.

          Not that the GOP isn’t secretly doing their dirty work to get rid of him.

          It makes me laugh hysterically how a guy like Rove is now having to endure Trump. It’s like a pig and a swell dancing to a Viennese Waltz. ugh!

    2. RED July 7, 2016

      Hmmm, immigrants, legal or illegal? Hmmm, I wonder how many people in the United States are immigrants? Hmmmm, a tough one.

      1. itsfun July 7, 2016

        If you want to go back 240 years, thats up to you. I prefer to talk about the world today and protect our borders.

        1. johninPCFL July 7, 2016

          We just learned this morning that more people are killed per year by the police in Louisiana than by all 12 million illegal immigrants in the US combined.
          Your priorities are a bit skewed.

          1. itsfun July 7, 2016

            I want both of them stopped.

  3. greenlantern1 July 7, 2016

    Why was Trump Taj Mahal awarded visas in the first place?

    Reply
  4. Otto T. Goat July 7, 2016

    As Trump’s history in Atlantic City becomes a focal point of the presidential election, a complicated picture emerges in a city where his name is still on a casino he no longer owns.

    Local 54 members picketing outside the Taj Mahal on Wednesday highlighted a positive of Trump’s presence in Atlantic City: Until Friday, the last strike at the Taj Mahal was 17 years ago and lasted only three days.

    “We always had a contract. He never took away our health care, our pension, our wage break. In that regard, I feel he always had our backs,” said Valerie McMorris, 47, a beverage worker at the Taj currently on strike with 1,000 other Local 54 members.

    http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/business/taj-workers-say-they-were-rarely-on-strike-under-donald/article_9787208a-43b5-11e6-aa77-47ece14d0887.html

    Reply
  5. tbs July 9, 2016

    It still does not add up to Blood, criminal money laundering, unsecured emails exposing our country’s safety, on his hands as Hillbilly has on hers!
    Maybe these illegal immigrants have learned our country’s streets are not paved in gold ! Neither can we take care of everyone because we need to take care of our very own!
    Trump will be fine through this…. but the liberals will do anything to put him down! If it wasn’t this it will be something else!
    Humph!
    Go Trump 2016!
    Now ALL you foul mouth liberals can have a hey day calling me names, which is the only thing you are good at doing! LOL

    Reply

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