Update: The strikers have ended their protests as Marriott Hotels has ratified a contract with workers belonging to several of their hotels. According to a Sun Times article, workers now under the new contract now have year-round health insurance, even if they are laid off due to slow business.
Drums beat, noisemakers whirl, and a worker with a megaphone cries out “no contract, no peace!” as union hotel laborers march up and down the entrance to the Palomar. Five year contracts between 30 downtown hotels and the hotel worker union, UNITE HERE Local 1, expired on August 31, and workers from 26 of those hotels have gone on strike.
“The company wanted to change some stuff, make some new… with healthcare if you didn’t work 32 hours a week, you wouldn’t get healthcare for the rest of the month,” said Fernando Flores, a 26-year-old employee for the Hotel Palomar. “Since the company didn’t want to agree to anything, and they proposed a contract with like 60 new things from the union, the company came and refused like 55 of them and only accepted five new things so the union was like, ‘if we don’t come to an agreement we’re gonna go on strike,’ and that’s what happened.”
On Friday, Sept. 14, approximately 4,000 striking workers marched down Michigan Ave. starting from Ogden Park Plaza and ending at Oak Street. The line of workers stretched several blocks and consisted of striking workers from all of the hotels, as well as some members of other unions such as the Service Employees International Union participating in solidarity.
Loud chants of “Local One” and “No Contracts, No Peace,” were chanted as the workers made their way down the eastern sidewalk. Participants carried picket signs with their union and what hotel they worked for as well as drums, noisemakers and bullhorns.
“I’m hoping the owners can get together with the union and mediate a contract so we can go back to work,” Michelle Gordon, 48, a housekeeper at the Palmer House, said. Gordon said hotels like the Palmer House were using temporary, non-union workers to replace strikers.
For some, like 49-year-old Emmanuel San, employee benefits are the biggest concern. “Healthcare is the number one issue,” San, a bellman at the Sheraton Grand, said. Going on to say that the cutbacks in healthcare benefits from the proposed contracts was the main reason for joining the strike.
In their public statement from the Michigan Avenue parade, UNITED HERE Local 1 stated, “Striking hotel workers deserve year-round health insurance, sick days to see a doctor, workloads that keep them healthy and wages that keep up with the cost of raising a family.” Due to demand for hotels drawing down in the winter, hotels cut back on staff for the season – leaving workers without healthcare.
Reverend Francis J. Kane of the Archdiocese of Chicago released a statement in support of the striking hotel workers. “We urge hotel owners and union representatives to work together in good faith for a resolution [for] their issues. I encourage the entire Catholic community to pray that they reach just agreements as soon as possible.
Strikers are expected to keep up the protests. Gordon said this may continue “at least another week.”
San stated that he would be willing to strike for “as long as it takes.” As of Wednesday the 19, the strike is still ongoing.