For immediate release
October 29, 2009
Workers vote to authorize a strike at 5 Chicago-area hotels
Seeing corporate profits return, workers take a stand against further cuts
Chicago, Ill. — Yesterday, workers at five area hotels, including the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, Westin Michigan Avenue, W Lakeshore, W Chicago-City Center, and Tremont Hotel, voted to authorize a strike by an 89% majority, in a major escalation of a citywide labor dispute among Chicago’s downtown hotels. The vote authorizes the rank-and-file bargaining committee to call a strike or boycott, if necessary.
Union contracts covering 6,000 workers at 30 hotels in downtown Chicago expired on Aug. 31, 2009, and a settlement between area workers and hotel employers is far from sight. Worker frustration at area hotels has mounted as major employers like the Hilton, Hyatt, and Starwood use the tough economy as an excuse to eliminate jobs and propose cuts to healthcare benefits.
Currently, healthcare costs for Chicago hotel employers are actually projected to fall without anyone losing healthcare coverage. But Starwood and Hyatt have sought to use the economy as an excuse to cut benefits — under their current proposals, as many as half of all workers at this year’s staffing levels would lose existing healthcare coverage. If adopted, the proposals threaten to set a standard that would affect healthcare for thousands of workers and their families.
Layoffs and proposed healthcare cuts come even as hotel companies report continued profitability. In the last three months, hotel company stocks have soared 20-30%. On Oct. 22, Starwood (which operates hotels voting to strike) announced profits of $180 million during the first three quarters of 2009. During the boom years of the current business cycle, hotel corporations made record profits — over $200 billion profits in just the last decade. Yet these corporations persist in using the current downswing as an excuse to extract permanent reductions in hotel workers’ quality of life.
A hotel strike is nothing new to Chicago. Workers at the Congress Hotel have been on strike for over six years, becoming the longest active strike in the country and the longest hotel strike in American history.
"Right now, two hotels–the Congress and the Sheraton–are trying to cut my benefits and my rights," says Imelda Martinez, a Congress striker who worked in housekeeping at the Congress Hotel ten years before the strike and has been working now at the Sheraton since around the time the strike began. "Right now I have to fight with strength for my family and for my rights. I voted to authorize a strike at the Sheraton because it is an important hotel for this city. I am not afraid."
Hotel workers are now calling on employers to join with workers to ensure that jobs in Chicago’s hospitality industry, which cannot be exported overseas, remain safe, family-sustaining jobs with good healthcare benefits that can help rebuild our economy from the ground up.
Visit www.HotelWorkersRising.org for more information.