Atlantic City Workers Sue to Overturn Indoor Smoking

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After years of urging lawmakers to ban smoking in Atlantic City casinos, employees in Atlantic City casinos are fed up. On April 5th, Casino Employees Against (Harmful) Smoking Effects (C.E.A.S.E) partnered with the United Auto Workers Union to overturn a law that has left casino workers the only ones exempt from the Clean Workplace Air Act. 

The United Auto Workers represents employees at the Bally’s, Caesars, and Tropicana casinos. This lawsuit, filed in the state Superior Court, challenges and exposes the gap in New Jersey’s Clear Workplace Air Act. 

Casinos Exempt From Clean Air Act 

The “clean air” law was passed in 2006 and it banned smoking in nearly every indoor facility and workplace except casinos, with indoor smoking allowed on 25% of the casino floor. 

The lawsuit hopes to prove the exception of casinos as unconstitutional, primarily based on the grounds of unequal protection under the law. 

“This legislation was supposed to protect everyone from the dangers of secondhand smoke. But somehow, our casino workers have been asked to roll the dice, all in the name of corporate greed,” UAW President Shawn Fain said. “Every worker deserves safety on the job, and every person deserves equal protection under the law. By leaving out casino workers, the state of New Jersey isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.” 

This issue is not unique to New Jersey. States such as Kansas, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Pennsylvania are seeking to tackle this topic for their casino workers as well.

“If the legislators in Trenton won’t do their jobs, we’re going to take the decision out of their hands and into a courtroom,” said Ray Jensen Jr., assistant director of the local UAW office.

“The state of New Jersey has failed casino workers in Atlantic City for 18 years. We let a false argument about economics subjugate our duty to protect the people we serve and in doing so, we allowed corporations to poison their employees for nearly two decades,” Joseph Vitale, a New Jersey state senator, said in a statement supporting the lawsuit. 

Attempted Compromise From State Senator 

Earlier this year a compromise was attempted by state Senator John Burzichelli by introducing a bill that would keep the current 25% cap on the casino floor customers can smoke on. It would allow smoking to occur in unenclosed areas that are more than 15 feet away from table games staffed by dealers. Additionally, it would offer smoking in enclosed, separate smoking rooms where no employee is assigned to work. 

However, this compromise was rejected with 75% opposition by those advocating for a full ban. 

Andy Kim, United States Representative, said, “If I don’t want people smoking in the United States Capitol where I work, you don’t need people smoking where you work.” in support of the casino workers. 

Opposition for Smoking Ban by The Casino Association of New Jersey 

The Casino Association of New Jersey, a trade group that represents all Atlantic City casinos, refused to comment on the lawsuit but has openly shared their opposition to the smoking ban. Stating that the ban would put Atlantic City casinos at a “competitive disadvantage” with casinos in other states that allow smoking. 

The lawsuit names democratic Governor Phil Murphy as well as the state’s acting health commissioner. Murphy has stated he would sign a smoking ban if the legislature passes one.