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Former Chicago hotel workers call on city, former employers to bring them back to work

“It’s really important that the people who build this city to not get left behind,” said Angel Castillo, organizing director for hospitality worker union Unite Local 1.

Dozens of out-of-work hotel workers and members of Unite Here Local 1 gathered at Federal Plaza in the Loop in November to demand hotels to give them back their jobs, including their pay raises and benefits, once the economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19.
Dozens of out-of-work hotel workers and members of Unite Here Local 1 gather at Federal Plaza in the Loop to demand hotels to give them back their jobs, including their pay raises and benefits, once the economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19 Friday morning.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Dozens of former Chicago hotel workers and union leaders on Friday called on the city’s hotels and civic leaders to ensure employees laid off during the pandemic will get their jobs back once more visitors return to the city.

“It’s really important that the people who build this city not get left behind,” said Angel Castillo, organizing director for hospitality worker union Unite Here Local 1.

According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 22,621 hotel jobs were lost in the state as of September. Unite Local 1 cited data from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, saying that more than 12,000 of those jobs were in Chicago.

At the rally at Federal Plaza downtown, organizers said there should be protections put in place that guarantee workers will be able to come back when the economy rebounds.

“We know that the business will come back and new vaccines and treatments show us that there is a path back to normal,” said Unite Here Local 1 president Karen Kent. “But many hotel workers don’t know whether they’ll have a job when guests come back.”

These are workers like Melisa Magaña, who was a room attendant at Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago before being laid off.

Magaña, a single mother of five, said her family depended on the health insurance and dental coverage her job provided, especially since her son had recently gotten a root canal. She lost her insurance when she was laid off.

She added that she hasn’t been able to find other jobs since being laid off and bills have started to pile up.

“I missed soccer games and time with my kids because I was working so much,” she said. “This job was our life.”

Melisa Magana, a single mother of five who worked as a room attendant at the Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago, recounts how she was laid off during a press conference at Federal Plaza in the Loop Friday morning, Nov. 13, 2020. Dozens of out-of-work hotel workers and members of Unite Here Local 1 gathered to demand hotels to give workers their jobs back, including their pay raises and benefits, once the economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Melisa Magana, a single mother of five who worked as a room attendant at the Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago, recounts how she was laid off during a press conference at Federal Plaza in the Loop Friday morning.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Maria Delgado, a former room attendant at the Marriott on the Magnificent Mile, said through a translator that working in hotels was her passion, and that losing her job led to lost sleep, a lack of appetite and even depression.

“I am asking for your help and compassion. Help us to get our jobs back, but also to give back our dignity,” Delgado said.

A Hilton spokesperson said in a statement: “The well-being of our Team Members remains our highest priority and we want to bring our Team Members back when travel resumes and as business needs allow. Until then, to further assist those unable to work through no fault of their own, we have created the Hilton Workforce Resource Center to connect hotel employees with new potential work opportunities.”

Marriott International and Hyatt did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cherita Ellens, president and CEO of women’s worker advocacy group Women Employed, said workers like Delgado and Magaña deserve to come back to work with their pay, benefits and seniority intact. She added that in order to do this, everyone in the city needs to come together and support them.

“Chicago, we are better than this,” Ellens said. “We take care of our own, and our own needs us to take care of them.”