Hotel guests getting an earful from striking workers
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The noise echoing up from the street sounded like an orchestra of tone-deaf toddlers.
“I went to the washroom, came back, put a pillow on my head. I had earplugs in. I could still hear it,” said Della Evans, 53, staying at the Wyndham Grand Tuesday night, with her husband, Steve Evans.
At some of the swankiest addresses across downtown this week, people have been waking up to a cacophony of cowbells, gongs, homemade maracas, whistles, pots and pan lids — as striking hotel workers have been trying to make their displeasure known.
A similar clattering at the Sheraton Grand prompted a young woman clutching a fluffy white dog to march out of her high rise apartment tower Tuesday morning and plead — for the sake of her pet’s mental health — for the protesters to lower the volume.
The strike, involving thousands of workers from 26 hotels, entered its fifth day Tuesday with no apparent end in sight.
“Employers know what it takes to end the strike and folks will be out for as long as it takes,” said Sarah Lyons, a spokeswoman for Unite Here Local 1.
The workers’ contract expired a little over a week ago, and talks have stalled with the numerous hotel chains that are affected. The main sticking point in negotiations is the year-round health coverage for employees, who can be classified as full-time but lose benefits if they are laid off during the slow winter months.
At the Wyndham Grand Tuesday, hotel higher-ups cast wary glances at protesters and hastily ushered guests to waiting taxis and coaches.
“It was very disturbing,” said Wyndham guest Ruby Oates, 33, whose four-month-old baby was awakened at 6 a.m. by the noise. “I’m pissed and tired.”
Several guests at the Sheraton Grand and the Wyndham were blunt in their refusal to see things from the workers’ perspective.
“I have no sympathy at all,” said Steve Evans, who was in town for the week from Vancouver, Canada. “They’re ruining holidays for people.”
Chris Moore, staying in the city on a business trip from Denmark, agreed.
“We’re in the 21st Century. This is not the way to demonstrate about workers’ rights,” Moore said, adding, “Those guy are going to damage their hearing.”
To which, several workers shrugged.
“I’m sorry, but they came at the wrong time and the wrong place,” said worker Andre Stroy, 55, banging a stick on a huge soup pot. “This isn’t personal. It’s business.”
John Marino, 32, in town from Connecticut for a trade show, was more sympathetic to people like Stroy, who yanks garbage and dirty linens out of hotel rooms at the Wyndham and gets paid about $20 an hour.
“It’s a disruption and it’s upsetting as a guest, but it’s their home and they need to get what they need to get,” said Marino, who was staying at the Sheraton Grand. “There is a problem. They wouldn’t be doing this [strike] if there wasn’t.”
The affected hotels have stressed that they remain open, offering, they say, top service to guests.
One bellman at JW Marriott, who would not give his name, said he was flown in from Kansas City to help where needed between working in the lobby and cleaning rooms.
The Marriott issued a statement, expressing disappointment over the strike.
“There is nothing about the current state of the negotiations or the longstanding and productive bargaining relationship between Marriott International and Unite Here that suggests that a strike is warranted or necessary. The parties are not at an impasse on any issue…,” the statement reads. “We continue to be available to bargain in good faith for a fair contract. In the meantime, our hotels are open, and we stand ready to provide excellent service to our guests.”
Disclosure notice: Some labor organizations have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor, which is affiliated with Unite Here Local 1.