The Congress Hotel employees have been striking for over six years. In the coming days, a huge batch of their fellow Chicago hotel workers may join them. At 8 p.m. last night, employees at five area hotels run by the Starwood Chain -- the Westin Michigan Avenue...
The Congress Hotel employees have been striking for over six years. In the coming days, a huge batch of their fellow Chicago hotel workers may join them.
At 8 p.m. last night, employees at five area hotels run by the Starwood Chain -- the Westin Michigan Avenue, the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, the W Lakeshore, the W, and the Tremont Hotel -- voted by an overwhelming majority to authorize a strike. The workers, represented by UNITE-HERE Local 1, are not walking out on the job just yet. But the vote gives union negotiators the green light to call a work stoppage or a boycott if contract negotiations don't progress, a major escalation in a campaign that's already featured a dramatic civil disobedience.
It's been eight weeks since UNITE-HERE's three-year contract covering workers at 30 downtown hotels expired and the two sides are still not close to reaching a compromise. Like their comrades at Hyatt -- one of the city's other big chains -- Starwood is claiming poverty, citing the recession as the reason they can't boost pay or benefits for its employees. Furthermore, in an attempt to cut costs, they are requesting that employees work 120 hours a month in order to qualify for health insurance, a move union officials say would disqualify almost half of their workers from coverage.
There's no doubt that the recession depressed tourism last year. But hotels seem to be on relatively sturdy financial ground; Starwood earned $40 million in profits this past quarter and $180 million over the first three quarters of 2009. And the industry rebounded nicely following the September 11 terrorist attacks, registering healthy growth between 2003-2007.
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, this is a decidedly bad time for hotels to suffer a walk-out. We'll be keeping tabs on the ongoing negotiations.