ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Twenty-one workers at the Tropicana Casino and Resort who took part in a traffic-blocking protest outside the casino’s main entrance this month won’t be fired but will remain suspended for 30 days.

Tropicana President Tony Rodio told The Associated Press late Monday that the casino could have fired the workers but chose not to.

“We would have been well within our rights to terminate those employees for the illegal activity they engaged in, blocking traffic and interfering with the company’s business operations,” he said. “However, it was the leadership of the union that misled the workers into making a bad decision, and it wouldn’t have been fair to make them lose their jobs for the mistakes of their union leaders.”

Rodio also said a Superior Court judge granted the Tropicana a restraining order Monday prohibiting Local 54 of the Unite-HERE union from conducting similar protests or interfering with the casino’s business. Local 54 said Tuesday the court order was agreed to in advance by both sides and does not prevent it from taking future lawful protest measures.

“Despite Tropicana’s attempts to portray us as economic terrorists, we were only peaceful workers protesting Tropicana’s illegal refusal to bargain a fair contract,” said Bob McDevitt, the union president. “We exercised our constitutional rights and engaged in a symbolic act. We entered into the consent order to make this clear. The consent order doesn’t limit our ability to engage in strikes, pickets or rallies at Tropicana.”

The union conducted what it called a civil disobedience campaign June 15 resulting in the arrest of 49 of its members after they sat down in the road and stopped traffic. The union was protesting the lack of a new contract and the casino’s termination of its employee pension plan in favor of cash payments to workers. The 21 suspended workers represented all the Tropicana protesters who blocked traffic and were arrested as part of the demonstration.

The union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over the suspensions.

“These workers have families to feed and people who depend on them,” McDevitt said. “Tony Rodio needs to stop acting like a little bully and do the right thing by reinstating these workers immediately and paying them for their lost work time.”

Several of the suspended workers remained defiant, saying they will endure their punishment if it ultimately helps improve workers’ situations.

“I am a single mother with three kids,” said Iris Sanchez, a housekeeper who has worked at the casino for two years. “Keeping me out of work for a month is really tough, but I don’t regret what I did. I stood up for myself and my family, and my kids are proud of me for it.”

Rodney Mills, a waiter at the Tropicana’s buffet for 20 years, voiced similar sentiments.

“It’s an attempt to make me and my co-workers afraid to stand up for our rights,” he said. “As long as I’m out of work, I’m going to be talking to my fellow Trop employees about fighting Tropicana’s illegal behavior and winning a fair contract.”

The workers were charged with refusing to obey a police order and blocking a roadway and were released on summonses to appear in municipal court. The hearings have yet to take place.

Carl Icahn bought the Tropicana out of bankruptcy court in 2010. As a new owner, he was not obligated to assume the pension liabilities of previous owners to a fund that is underfunded by as much as $1.5 billion. The casino instead said it would give employees cash payments equal to what their pension allotments would have been, or deposit that money into their 401(k) accounts.

The Tropicana is one of three Atlantic City casinos that currently do not have contracts with Local 54, along with Revel and Resorts Casino Hotel.

Until now, both sides had been working hard to achieve labor peace, saying that a strike would cause far greater damage now than it did seven years ago, when Atlantic City’s revenues were near their height. During the past five years, Atlantic City’s casino revenues have fallen from $5.2 billion to $3.3 billion last year. Thousands of jobs have disappeared, as well.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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