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Union pacts with Hilton turn up heat on Starwood, Hyatt

Union contracts with Chicago-area Hilton hotels could pressure other hospitality chains to follow suit.

Members of the union UNITE HERE on Friday ratified four-year agreements covering 1,600 Chicago-area workers at the Drake, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago Hilton and Hilton O’Hare.

The deals will maintain benefits and raise wages, said UNITE HERE Local 1 spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel. Workers will continue paying $30 per month for family medical coverage with no added out-of-pocket expenses, while room-attendant pay will increase more than 12 percent to $16.40 an hour over the four years, she said.

A Hilton statement called the contracts “good for our company and good for our team members.”

The agreements make Hilton the first hotel chain in the Chicago area to settle with UNITE HERE since the union’s local contracts expired in 2009.

Hotel management consultant Ted Mandigo said the deals strengthen UNITE HERE’s hand. “Having an agreement with Hilton gives a set of negotiated terms that form a basis for what [the union] is going to look for from Starwood and the Hyatt organization,” he said, referring to the Chicago area’s other major unionized hotel chains.

In 2006, three-year union deals with Hilton quickly led to similar pacts with the other hotels.

Starwood negotiator Jim Franczek said he hadn’t seen the Hilton agreement and, therefore, couldn’t comment on it.

Officials of Hyatt, a Chicago-based company, didn’t immediately answer our questions Monday.

Henry Tamarin, president of Local 1, said the Hilton deals would “definitely increase pressure” on the other companies. “But we have some sharper issues with Hyatt,” Tamarin said, pointing to subcontracting and housekeeping workloads.

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