About 2,000 striking hotel workers — armed with drums, whistles, buckets and drums — marched north along the Magnificent Mile Thursday afternoon, calling for a new contract with several hotel chains in the city that employ them.
The contract expired more than a week ago and negotiations have focused on 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.
The workers first gathered for an afternoon rally at Ogden Plaza Park, just across the street from the Sheraton Grand Hotel, at North Water and Columbus.
Addressing the workers who crammed into the small plaza, Angel Castillo, the organizing director for Unite Here Local 1, said the hotel employees the union represents are “the face of this city.”
Castillo said it was the work of the union members that creates a welcoming environment for tourists in Chicago.
“The company thinks that we do not know our value,” Castillo said. “We know that we deserve better and we are going to show the city of Chicago today, we are going to show them we are the face of this city.”
Addressing the members, union president Karen Kent said her heart was “so full.”
“I am so grateful that we are here today in the city of Chicago,” Kent said. “I am grateful that we are in Chicago’s labor movement and that we have the support of all of Chicago labor.”
Rashanda Williams, a bartender at the Palmer House Hilton, stressed unity while addressing the crowd.
“This was a long time coming and I don’t care how you got here, when you came here or what brought you here,” she said. “The thing is, you’re here right now and we’re all together.”
“This is the manifestation of our hard work, of our labor, of our fight and it is our responsibility to take care of each other,” she added.
Bob Reiter, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor, assured the crowd that “we have your back” in the strike.
Some labor organizations have ownership stakes in Sun-Times Media, including the Chicago Federation of Labor, which is also affiliated with Unite Here Local 1 and represents about 6,500 hotel workers.
After the rally, marchers headed north on Michigan Avenue to the park directly across the street from the Drake Hotel for another smaller rally.
Several dozen Chicago police officers — many from other districts and bureaus outside the downtown area — made sure the marchers kept to the sidewalk as they chanted “No contract, no peace” and “Si, se puede.”