Strikers at the Congress Hotel, joined by hundreds of community supporters and members of UNITE HERE Local 1, rallied outside the Congress Hotel yesterday, June 14, to commemorate the 7th Anniversary of the Congress Hotel Strike, now the longest hotel strike in American history.
The event, led by keynote speaker Congressman Luis Gutierrez, gave recognition to the strikers who are immigrants to the United States and honored them for their struggle to lift job standards for all workers in the Chicago hospitality industry. In so doing, strike supporters at the rally called both for an end to the strike at the Congress Hotel and immigration reform in the United States.
An overwhelming majority of the courageous individuals who have led the longest hotel strike in American history at the Congress Hotel are immigrants to the United States. Working families in Chicago have made astounding gains in recent years because the Congress strikers have refused to settle for substandard wages. At the time that the strike began, Chicago housekeepers were making just $8.83 an hour, compared to $14.60 an hour today. The strikers at the Congress Hotel stand as a powerful example of how immigrant workers in the United States are leading the fight to raise standards for low-wage workers in the service industry and beyond. The Congress strikers continue a powerful American tradition of immigrants, generation after generation, who have come to this country and fought to make jobs in the United States better.
"We face two big struggles—one for the rights of workers and the other for the rights of immigrants," said Rene Patino, who worked in the Room Service Department at Congress Hotel before the strike began." These struggles make us stronger every day. We face great obstacles, but we will keep fighting until all workers are treated with respect and we have just immigration laws."
On June 15, 2003, members of UNITE HERE Local 1 working at the Congress Hotel went out on strike after the hotel decided to freeze wages until 2010 and slash benefits. To ensure that hotel jobs in this city are strong, family-sustaining jobs, Congress strikers have taken the fight to the streets of Chicago and around the world. There are about 60 active remaining strikers, who both picket the Congress hotel and have lead a campaign statewide to bring an end to the Congress Hotel Strike. Since the time that negotiations began, the Congress Hotel has never offered a proposal with increases in wages or the company’s share of healthcare costs from the rates listed in the contract that expired in 2002.
"When the Irish, Italians, and Polish came to this country, they treated them poorly. They were wrong to treat them poorly then, and they’re wrong to treat them poorly today," said Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL). "And just like the Americans who stood up for immigrants before, we stand for the immigrants of today—for fairness, for justice and a decent living for workers and their families."
During the rally, about 100 picketers marched two blocks south to the Blackstone Hotel, where workers have faced an anti-union campaign while trying to settle their first contract. Hotel management has fired workers who are visible union supporters, threatened to increase workload and refused to offer affordable health care. Last week, UNITE HERE filed a complaint against the Blackstone with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging unfair labor practices, including retaliation against workers for union involvement. Hotel workers and community supporters called on JPMorgan, who lent $26 million to Blackstone owners Sage Hospitality, to stop supporting bad employers.
UNITE HERE Local 1 represents over 15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana. For more information on the strike, go to PresidentPicketsCongress.org.