Employees at 30 Chicago hotels will take a strike authorization vote Wednesday that threatens to ground — at least temporarily — the golden goose that is the local tourism industry.
The vote at Orchestra Hall to authorize a strike and set an Aug. 31 strike deadline is being promoted heavily on Unite Here Local 1’s Facebook page, with a video that features a parade of hotel employees talking about the issues driving the fight over a new collective-bargaining agreement.
Unite Here Local 1 President Karen Kent could not be reached for comment.
In addition to pay, key points at issue include: job security, pensions, year-round health insurance, sick days and over-work.
“We want affordable, quality health care for our families,” one employee is quoted as saying.
“The hotel companies keep cutting people in departments like mine,” another says.
“Eliminating positions in restaurants like mine,” says a third.
“And they push more work on the rest of us,” a co-worker says.
The workers are identified only by their jobs and first names.
A housekeeper complains she is so overworked that she has to “take pain pills every day.” A co-worker says she goes home at night so dead tired, she has “no energy left for my family.”
Yet another housekeeper says she has “nightmares about having to finish all of those rooms.” A co-worker says the “stress from doing two jobs is taking years off” her life.
“I get laid off in the winter, and I lose my health insurance for months,” another says.
The video ends with the workers stating that they are “fighting for our lives” and prepared to strike if that’s what it takes to get a fair union contract.
“Stop piling on more and more work,” one employee says.
“Business is booming. 55 million tourists came to Chicago last year. In 2017, Chicago hotels made over $2 billion. That’s more than ever before. We know the companies can afford our demands,” another employee says.
“I’m ready to strike. This is for our lives.”
Despite an expanded inventory, Chicago hotels were 61.2 percent occupied during the first quarter of this year. That’s a tie for the highest occupancy rate ever recorded in Chicago.
More recently, Chicago hotels were filled to capacity during Lollapalooza, causing a $3.3 million spillover effect for Airbnb hosts, the home-sharing giant claimed.
But a strike vote has the potential to put a major dent in that business as the summer travel season draws to a close.
Marc Gordon, president and CEO of the Il. Hotel & Lodging Association, said he’s not involved in the negotiations and has no idea what the issues are.
Gordon would only say there are “tactics involved” and he can only hope there is an agreement.
“Summer season is busy. But, there’s never a good time for a strike. A strike obviously hurts everybody. That would be very unfortunate for everybody involved,” he said.
Four years ago, Unite Here Local 1 members dressed in “Rahm Love” t-shirts unveiled three television commercials featuring African-American airport and hotel employees touting Mayor Rahm Emanuel as their political champion.
It was not known whether Emanuel has any plans to try and avert a strike by brokering an agreement between the major hotels and the hotel workers union that provided pivotal support for his 2015 re-election campaign against mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Late Tuesday, mayoral spokesman Grant Klinzman said City Hall remains “hopeful the two sides work through the process and get to a fair contract.”
Klinzman noted that the contract “does not expire for another three weeks and a strike authorization vote is not a strike.”
Former Mayor Richard J. Daley was famous for averting labor disputes that threatened to cripple the Chicago economy. The elder Daley would summon both sides into the mayor’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall and not let any of the principals leave until they came out with an agreement.
Many strikes — involving both public and private-sector unions — were averted that way.