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Chicago Hotel Workers Strike at 25 Sites (1)

Sept. 7, 2018, 2:47 PMUpdated: Sept. 7, 2018, 8:33 PM

Thousands of Chicago hotel workers initiated a strike at 25 properties on Sept. 7 in a coordinated effort targeting several employers.

The strike involves properties owned by Marriott, InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton, Millennium, Wyndham, and others.

Strikers include housekeepers, cooks, bellmen, servers, and “basically every major hospitality function,” UNITE HERE Local 1 spokesman Elliott Mallen said.

Raises and year-round health-care coverage for workers who are laid off in slow seasons are the main sticking points in labor contract negotiations, Mallen said.

Paul Ades, a vice president for labor relations at Hilton, whose Chicago properties include the Drake Hotel, said the strike is having “minimal impact on our operations.” All of the other chains contacted by Bloomberg Law indicated they are open for business as well.

‘Maximum Leverage’

The citywide coordinated effort isn’t unusual in the hospitality industry, William Sites, a University of Chicago professor who studies urban policies and social movements, told Bloomberg Law.

“The hotel workers’ union seeks to maximize leverage in a city in which all hotels can be similarly affected by disruption,” Sites said.

Chicago is also a “premier” destination for conventions, and it isn’t a coincidence that there is a trade show this weekend, he said.

Jeff Beck, a Michigan State University professor and former Marriott employee, sees the focus on health care as “somewhat of a wake-up call” for the hospitality industry.

“When slow times occur, people’s hours and their benefits were going to be cut,” Beck said.

Bringing in temporary workers to lessen the impact on business isn’t surprising and something he encountered in his professional career with Marriott.

“Marriott said we want to bring in staff and employees from other hotels to fit the bill, and that’s exactly what we did. We brought in employees from all over the Marriott system,” Beck said.

Managers were even occasionally brought in to fill temporarily vacant roles, he said. Beck is associate director of the School of Hospitality Business at MSU.

A Marriott spokesman told Bloomberg Law its hotels also are open and accepting guests but wouldn’t address whether replacement workers are being used.

Temporary workers have been hired at the Millennium Knickerbocker Chicago, general manager Velma Wong confirmed. The hotel continues to negotiate in good faith, Wong told Bloomberg Law.

Hilton declined to disclose the specifics of contingency plans, director of corporate communications Laura Ford said.

The Wyndham Grand is operating by taking “measures to ensure the hotel is equipped to welcome guests with minimal interruption during this time,” director of global communications Gabriella Chiera told Bloomberg Law.

Negotiations Continue

UNITE HERE Local 1 negotiates all of the contracts with the various employers. The deals expired Sept 1. The union wouldn’t say how long the strike will last.

“The companies know what it will take to end the strike,” Mallen said.

A Marriott spokesman said the strike wasn’t warranted or necessary.

“The parties are not at an impasse on any issue. In fact, the union is still in the process of making its initial bargaining proposal, with new proposals made just last week at our most recent bargaining session,” Marriott’s Brendan McManus said. “We continue to be available to bargain in good faith for a fair contract.”

Hilton’s Ades confirmed that contract talks are ongoing.

“We are negotiating with the union in good faith and are confident that we will reach an agreement that is fair to our valued Team Members and to our hotels,” he said.

Worker benefits and wages will remain unchanged as Hyatt continues to negotiate with Local 1, vice president of labor relations Michael D’Angelo told Bloomberg Law in an email.

“Hyatt and UNITE HERE have already come to successful agreements this year in other markets, and we will continue negotiating in good faith in Chicago,” D’Angelo said.

Representatives from InterContinental and other hotels didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paige Smith in Washington at psmith@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com