Longest U.S. Hotel Strike, In Chicago, Ends


CHICAGO—The longest U.S. hotel strike ever, by all 130 workers at Chicago’s Congress Hotel, ended May 29, just short of its 10th anniversary. Unite Here Local 1 announced it made an unconditional offer to return to work. The local added it would seek other hotels to organize – and other employers for the Congress workers.

That’s because the hotel management was unsure whether it would take the remaining workers back, as obeying labor law requires it to do. The union doubted many of the Congress Hotel workers would want to go back. The union has found other jobs over the decade for 60 of the Congress workers.

Hotel management forced workers, including housekeepers, restaurant servers and kitchen helpers, to strike on June 15, 2003. It demanded workers shoulder more of their health insurance costs and take a 7% cut below the $8.83 per hour they earned, the city hotel average. Management also demanded unlimited subcontracting rights to hire minimum wage workers. The Congress workers are mostly immigrant women.

Now the average unionized Chicago hotel worker earns approximately $16 an hour, Unite Here reports. Local 1 is offering to return under the terms of the old contract, including the old hourly wage.

The strike drew union support, a boycott and political notice. Conditions at the hotel, located on Chicago’s high-class Michigan Avenue just east of the Loop, went downhill quickly: Replacement workers and managers left guests with dirty rooms, soiled sheets, sultry service and clogged toilets. Bargaining sessions were fitful.

“The decision to end the Congress strike was a hard one, but it is the right time for the union and the strikers to move on,” said Local 1 President Henry Tamarin. “The boycott effectively dramatically reduced the hotel’s business.

“The hotel treats workers and customers equally poorly and the community knows it. There is no more to do there. The reclusive owner lives in Geneva and Tel Aviv and hasn’t been to Chicago since the strike started. We don’t see getting a contract here, and we have many more battles to fight for economic justice.”