Members of the Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) were anticipating their third annual meeting for quite some time. An advocacy group that promotes mixed-use development in downtown Chicago, local business and civic leaders were excited to unveil an ambitious $165 million plan …
Members of the Chicago Loop Alliance (CLA) were anticipating their third annual meeting for quite some time. An advocacy group that promotes mixed-use development in downtown Chicago, local business and civic leaders were excited to unveil an ambitious $165 million plan that would transform the streetscape of a three-block stretch between Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile. For CLA members, it seemed natural to roll out the proposal at the brand-new Trump Tower Chicago Hotel, an immaculate but not-yet-completed skyscraper near their targeted project.
But as the well-dressed hotel visitors arrived at the February 28 event, they were met with an unexpected surprise. Marching beneath the massive high-rise were 40 picketers who didn’t seemed phased by either the harsh wind or the large crowd. They waved signs reading “No Contract: Unfair” and alternated between an array of raucous chants that echoed through the scaffolding and around the block. “Hey Trump, You’re Fired!” even solicited a few chuckles from the hotel doormen and valet parkers.
The protest was delivered by members of UNITE-HERE Local 1, who picketed the Chicago luxury hotel to express their frustration over the failure to reach a deal with the Trump Organization. The union, which represents 15,000 area workers, 6,500 of which are hotel employees, is hoping their action will re-energize negotiations at the new 339-room hotel.
The crux of the deal is the approval of a neutrality agreement, or a contract between the union and Trump under which the employer agrees to stay neutral if a local attempts to organize its workforce. After four years of talks and no signed agreement from New York developer Donald Trump, negotiations collapsed in the fall over management’s refusal to include food and beverage service workers in the union’s bargaining unit. Local 1 communications director Annemarie Strassel told The Chicago Tribune that her organization could not exclude those laborers because they “are the heart and soul” of the union.
Trump Tower is a key battle for Local 1, whose agreements cover 18,000 of the 30,000 hotel rooms in the city. For one, the sheer size of the building and Trump’s celebrity makes the hotel a high-profile target. It’s also a campaign that stands a decent chance of success, given Trump’s willingness to sign union contracts in the past, namely three facilities in Atlantic City, N.J., and one in New York City. And if victorious, the win could set a valuable precedent for UNITE-HERE, as developers are slated to add thousands of hotel rooms to the downtown market during the next few years.
Alexi Canalos, a UNITE-HERE staff member walking the picket line, stressed that her union is “putting people into the middle class,” a pipedream for employees without union representation. Statistics lend support to her claim. A 2006 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the mean annual salary for hotel maids and house cleaners was $17,970, while UNITE-HERE reports that the average salary for unionized housekeepers is $26,000.
Of course, union wages and benefits are a pittance to the Trump company, which has already outfitted each hotel room with a gourmet mini-bar. Included is Bling H20 bottled water from Tennessee, which runs $25 for a half-liter bottle. “It’s ridiculous that they are able to pay for [that water] but they can’t pay their workers a decent wage or benefits,” says Nathan Wilmers, a union shop steward. “They are taking money and food out of poor people’s mouths.”
Photo used under a Creative Commons license by Flickr user DR000.