Chicago hotel workers vote to strike

Chicago hotel workers are set to strike Aug. 31. Photo credit: Getty Images/RudyBalasko

Chicago hotel employees have voted to strike this month as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement fell through. More than 90 percent of Unite Here Local 1’s membership voted in favor of the strike, which will commence Aug. 31 should hotels fail to secure a new deal with workers.

More than 30 hotel are expected to be impacted by any potential stoppages. The exact number of employees willing to strike is unknown, but the Chicago Sun Times estimates it to be in the thousands.

The crux of the collective bargaining agreement should not come as a surprise to hotel operators. Unite Here Local 1 is calling for pay increases, job security, pension reform, year-round health insurance, more sick days and complaints about overworking amid departmental cuts.

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While Unite Here Local 1 has not yet responded to requests for comments, workers outside of the event told the Chicago Sun Times that they are fearful hotel companies are beginning to shift the burden of healthcare costs onto employees. Unite Here’s website also showcases employees railing against department cuts, health insurance that is only available part of the year and frequent overtime and overworking, despite 55 million tourist arrivals to Chicago in 2017.

“We’re tired of being stepped on, when these billion-dollar corporations are getting all this money and then they forget us,” Larry Lewis, a housekeeper at Chicago’s Palmer House, told the Chicago Sun Times. “They forget that we’ve made these places five-star, worldwide-class hotels… They want to take our healthcare, they want to take our medicine.”

Healthcare and overworking concerns took center stage at previous workers discussions in Chicago. In a video released by Unite Here, hotel workers complain about taking pain medication to deal with the results of overworking, and also rail against seasonal layoffs that leave some without health insurance.

During the first quarter of 2018, Chicago hotels achieved 61.2 percent occupancy, tying the city’s previous record. With the end of summer looming and travel to the city still at an all-time high, a potential strike could have a widespread deleterious impact on the entire city.

"We have recently begun negotiations with Unite Here Local 1 and 450 for a new collective bargaining agreement to succeed our current labor agreements that expire Aug. 31," a Hilton spokesperson said in a statement to Hotel Management. "These unions represent some of our team members in specific Chicago hotels. A strike vote does not mean that there will be a strike. Hilton has an established track record of success negotiating labor agreements with Unite Here Locals 1 and 450. We are confident that Hilton and the union will reach agreements that are beneficial to our valued team members and to our properties. In the interim, we will continue to provide the same great service and amenities we are proud to offer our guests every day."

The most recent city to face a workers strike this year was Las Vegas, when Unite Here’s Culinary Workers Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165 voted to strike in May. That strike was planned over union contracts that were set to expire, and it would have impacted 34 casino hotels in the city. The walk out was narrowly averted in June after MGM and Caesars negotiated a deal in the workers’ favor.