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Workers From 26 Downtown Hotels Go On Strike

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Local 1 Strike

Workers from UNITE HERE Local 1 picket in front of the Hilton Chicago. Union workers at 26 downtown hotels are campaigning for year-round health coverage.

Michael Puente/WBEZ

Employees from 26 major hotel chains in downtown Chicago are on strike after their contracts expired on August 31st. The workers, represented by Unite Here Local 1, are campaigning for year-round health insurance. Under their old contracts, hotel workers could lose their health coverage if they were laid off during the less busy winter months.

This strike is unusual in its strategy of targeting more than one hotel.

The Morning Shift talks Michael Puente, Northwest Indiana reporter for WBEZ.

Also joining the Morning Shift is reporter Danny Ecker, who wrote an explainer on the strike for Crain’s Chicago Business, and Roushaunda Williams, a strike captain for UNITE HERE Local 1. She’s been a bartender at the Palmer House Hilton for eighteen years.

Hotels Affected by the Strike

The map below shows all 26 hotels with striking workers.

Local 1 defends the strike

Arun Venugopal: Hyatt Hotel released a statement on Monday regarding the strike. Let me read you a small part of that:

“We are disappointed that UNITE HERE Local 1 has chosen to strike at this early stage. Hyatt and Local 1 are not at an impasse on any issue, and further negotiation sessions are set for this week. In fact, Hyatt has not received the union's complete proposals. Colleague benefits and wages remain unchanged as we negotiate a new agreement….Hyatt hotels in Chicago, like those across the country, offer competitive wages and benefits to our colleagues, including comprehensive healthcare, various wellbeing initiatives and generous retirement contributions….”

Roushaunda, what’s your response to that statement?

Roushaunda Williams: My response is, again, our contract expired 8/31. Everybody knew it was coming. We still don’t have year-round health insurance. That’s a problem for our union members. That’s a problem for the people I work alongside. We have been very clear about wanting year-round health insurance. As of today we do not have year-round health insurance for all of our members.

The strike’s effect on hotel guests

Danny Ecker: This covers 6,000 workers across these 26 hotels….Now, just for some perspective, there are 174-175 hotels in the central business district, but these 26 are union hotels...these, in many cases are the larger hotels in the city: Hyatt Regency, Sheraton Grand Chicago, Palmer House Hilton--I mean, these are big ones that have a lot of people staying here, especially right now, because we have one of the largest conventions that we host here in Chicago, IMTS, that’s going on. So this was timed strategically to make the biggest hit.

Venugopal: Ok, so do you get the sense that this has sort of a viral feeling, or is this going to hit a limit, because as you said, most hotels are not unionized?

Ecker: I mean, it has its limit of 30 hotels that have union workers, but its impact is being felt in a big way, no question. You’ve seen stories in the last few days...of people who are in town visiting, they’ve paid a lot of money to stay at one of these nice hotels, and they’re having to struggle, one, with the noise of these protesters, two, with, you know, usual services they get at these hotels that they’re not getting. You know, “hey, here’s a rack of towels, go get one yourself.”


Five things to know about Chicago’s hotel strike (Crain’s Chicago Business 9/10/18)

Strike expands to 26 Chicago hotels: Cambria workers walk off the job (Chicago Tribune 9/11/18)

Chicago hotel strike closes some fine-dining restaurants (Chicago Tribune 9/11/18)

Customers Complain Of Poor Service As Hotel Workers Continue Strike (CBS 2 Chicago 9/10/18)

Downtown hotel workers strike continues, guests feel impact (ABC 7 Chicago 9/10/18)

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