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Chicago hotels seem unwilling to meet workers’ demands, as strike stretches into second week

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

The Chicago hotel workers strike has entered its second week, but employees and management don’t appear to be any closer to a resolution.

Workers are demanding year-round health insurance, since many workers don’t have insurance during the slow winter months, when they are laid off. They also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads.

Ionela Petrea, a server at Hyatt Regency Bar who is on the worker negotiating committee at the hotel, told the Chicago Tribune last week that there had been two negotiating sessions since the beginning of the strike. Petrea said they were talking about wage increases for tipped workers, heavy workloads, and year-round health insurance, with the last issue being the source of the most contention. Petrea told the Tribune that the reason the hotel is probably dragging its feet on this particular issue because it would be more expensive compared to other requests.

The union argues that the hotel industry can afford to answer the workers’ demands. Sarah Lyons, research analyst of UNITE HERE Local 1, told WTTW, “The Chicago hospitality industry is doing extraordinarily well. Last year there were a record number of visitors: 55 million people. Chicago hotels raked in $2.3 billion in revenue last year.”

The contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, including doorman, servers, doormen, and housekeepers, expired on August 30. The businesses don’t seem any more eager to meet workers’ requests, however. Last week, representatives for these hotels claimed that it was too early in the negotiations process to strike and that workers and management had not reached an impasse. This week, hotels continue to make similar statements and haven’t signaled that they’re willing to meet workers’ demands.

Paul Andes, a Hilton Hotels senior vice president for labor relations, said in a statement to Chicago Reader published on Tuesday that the strike will have “minimal impact” on operations and added, “We continue to provide the service and amenities we are proud to offer our guests and clients every day. We are negotiating with the union in good faith and are confident that we will reach an agreement that is fair to our valued team members and to our hotels.”

However, last week, travelers said that their stay at Palmer House a Hilton Hotel, or as some refer to it, Palmer House Hilton, had a few complications. According to ABC7, towels were piling up, beds were unmade, and check-in lines were long. The same has been true at other hotels during the strike, with managers doing housekeeping and struggling to keep up with the workload. Ernesto Melendez, a Chicago tourist staying at a strike-affected hotel he did not name, said to CBS Chicago, “Our room hasn’t been cleaned for a couple of days. They gave us a notice when we checked in that they weren’t going to clean the room and that’s tough because there’s five of us in the room.”

Some groups holding events have moved their conferences to hotels and other venues where workers are not on strike in solidarity with workers. Last week, the Democratic Attorneys General Association canceled its 200-person policy event at the strike-affected JW Marriott in support of the hotel workers, the Chicago Tribune reported. Howard Brown Health Center, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ people’s health, moved the Midwest LGBTQ Health Symposium from its original hotel venue where workers were striking to the Tribune to Malcolm X College.

Some national political figures such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, have tweeted in support of the strike.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) decided to give a speech at a striking hotel, however, while Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, alderman for Chicago’s 35th Ward, joined the hotel workers’ picket line.

The Democratic candidate challenging Gov. Rauner, Jay Robert Pritzker, or J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist, is a member of the family that owns the Hyatt Hotel chain. Pritzker, who received endorsements from 14 unions in May and has sent a number of pro-union tweets, has not tweeted anything about the hotel strike since it began.

Thousands of Boston hotel employers may be next to go on strike. Last week, Marriott hotel workers voted to authorize a strike against Marrott’s eight Boston hotels to demand better pay and benefits, according to WGBH.

“It won’t only cripple the hotels, but it will send a message worldwide that there’s labor unrest in Boston,” Brian Lang, Local 26 union president, said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

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