Negotiations for downtown union hotels and key O’Hare hotels will begin on July 25. Contracts covering 7,000 workers at 26 hotels with nearly 17,000 rooms will expire on August 31, 2006 at midnight.
“Negotiations are getting started later than we think is healthy,” said Henry Tamarin, President of Local 1. “We are particularly concerned about the Hilton-owned properties. Hilton has a horrible relationship with its employees, and has chosen an aggressive posture nationally. ” Hilton, based in Beverly Hills, CA, is the largest employer of hotel workers in Chicago. Hilton owns the Chicago Hilton and Towers, the O’Hare Hilton, and the Drake Hotel.
Global Hyatt Corporation, Chicago’s hometown hotel company, employs the second largest number of hotel workers in Chicago. Dianne Hart, who has worked 32 years at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, says that “we’re concerned about Hyatt’s position in the upcoming negotiations. They need to stop subcontracting our work out. We want to uphold the high standards Chicago visitors deserve.”
UNITE HERE Local 1 has separated Hilton and Hyatt negotiations from other Chicago hotels. “We don’t want to tar the whole industry with the same brush,” said President Tamarin. “There are encouraging signals that some hotel companies are seeking a cooperative relationship with their workers, such as Tishman Hotels (which owns the Sheraton Chicago), Hostmark (which operates the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza and Holiday Inn City Centre), and the Fairmont, amongst others.”
The convention and tourism industry is an increasingly important - and lucrative - sector of Chicago’s economy. “Hotel jobs are here to stay, and they are growing. They need to be middle class, sustainable jobs. Room attendants need to be treated like the women they are, not disposable machines. They need a chance to grow old and collect a reasonable pension without being crippled by their jobs. They need affordable healthcare, decent wage increases, and humane workloads. To do all this we need to do a better job of managing the business,” said Tamarin. “Last year, the hotel industry posted nearly $23 billion in profits in the U.S. In the first half of 2006, revenue per room in Chicago is up 18.2% over last year. The hotels can clearly afford a fair deal.”
This year Chicago fell to third place for major conventions. “In spite of increasing occupancies and room revenues, the leadership of Chicago’s hospitality industry is in disarray,” said UNITE HERE Local 1 spokesperson Lars Negstad. “The Convention & Tourism Bureau is reportedly suffering from low morale, high turnover and under-funded programs. Neither guests nor workers have been well served by the leaders of the industry.”
Chicago hotel workers want to avoid a strike. The Congress Hotel, where a strike has lasted over three years, has become the poster child for mismanagement. The Union hopes that Hilton and Hyatt will choose to negotiate fair contracts. If they don’t, however, the Union said workers will be ready to strike as soon as September 1.