Casino workers' union leader C. Robert McDevitt, on shutdowns

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More than 17,000 New Jersey mayors, council members, legislators and municipal officials will show up in Atlantic City on Tuesday through Thursday for the annual New Jersey League of Municipalities convention.

C. Robert "Bob" McDevitt, leader of the union representing Atlantic City's hotel and casino workers, has a message for them:

Please don't go to any events at the Trump Taj Mahal and the Tropicana Casino & Resort, but do show up Wednesday at 5 p.m. when hundreds of Unite Here Local 54 members will march from the Taj to the Tropicana on the Boardwalk, in a protest aimed at billionaire investor Carl Icahn.

Last month, Icahn, whose company owns the Tropicana, and whose affiliates control the fate of the bankrupt Taj, convinced a bankruptcy judge to void the Taj's union contract, ending pension and health benefits for 1,100 union workers.

The legislators "seem very supportive, because this is going to cost New Jersey money," said McDevitt, 53, still fuming. "It's not just our members who are hurt. If they go on Medicaid, it's a direct cost to the state."

McDevitt is not asking conventioneers booked at the two casinos to camp on the beach, but "there's a whole city full of functions to go to," he said. "We're asking them to stay out of the Taj and the Tropicana. Don't give them that money."

Question. It's been a tough year, four casinos closing with more than 5,000 of your members losing their jobs.

Answer. It's difficult, because there are big winners and big losers in the industry right now. I've heard professors compare Atlantic City to a factory town. All factories everywhere closed because everything went overseas. This is different.

Q. How so?

A. It's a seismic shift, but Atlantic City will always have a very large share of the East Coast market. We're still a more than $2.5 billion market in a city that's 44 blocks long. We're very outsized, even though we feel like we shrunk, and we have shrunk, by half. Still, if you went to any community in the world and said, 'I would like to put a $2.5 billion industry in your town,' who would say no? It's all a matter of perception.

Q. Because you grew up in Atlantic City and live here, you know a lot of your members personally, and they are suffering. What's that like?

A. It's very painful. And I don't want to dismiss the human pain and tragedy that people are going through. These people - a lot of whom I grew up with - have lost their jobs and, in some situations, you have husbands and wives that both lost jobs. It's horrible what's going on.

Q. When you became president, Local 54 was under federal supervision due to the influence of the mob. As a member, did you feel the mob's presence?

A. In the 1980s, the mob was all over the place. I never felt it directly, but it was in the air.

Q. The federal monitors stayed from 1991 to 1997.

A. The government intervention absolutely did help give the union back to the membership. There are people that have a sense of nostalgia. They felt strength from it. Well, OK, when the mob was here, they were stealing $200,000 a month out of the coffers.

Q. For years, you made your living as a bartender and banquet server. What bugs you most when you go to a bar?

A. Hovering. I also don't like being ignored as a customer.

Q. Drinks?

A. I like a Negroni straight up. I like making a great Martini - a gin Martini. A Manhattan. A really well-constructed kind of drink that is made to the recipe's specification is an art.


BOB McDEVITT

Title: President, Local 54 Unite Here.

Home: Atlantic City

Family: Wife, Juliet Monfordini; children, Jennifer, 29, Patrick, 24, Matthew, 21, James, 18, Paul, 13.

Diploma: Holy Spirit High School, Atlantic City. Attended Temple University, Atlantic Cape Community College, Richard Stockton College.

Good news: Worked at the Playboy Club as a young man.

Bad news: The bunnies were his high school classmates. "They didn't have cachet with me."

Hobby: Cooking, especially Italian food.

Why: "It is something I can start and complete and get a reaction."


LOCAL 54

What: Unite Here Local 54 represents casino workers, hotel workers in southern New Jersey; school cafeteria workers.

Office: Atlantic City.

Members: 10,000.

2013 Revenues: $7.8 million, mostly dues.

How Local 54 got its number: In the 1970s, when Local 54 was created from the merger of two unions, officials took the "5" from Local 508 of the hotel workers union and the "4" from Local 491 of the union representing bartenders.


Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.

jvonbergen@phillynews.com

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@JaneVonBergen