The Guardian September 4, 2002


US Workers take on Chicago hotels

by Brandi Kishner

At the time of writing over 7000 members of the Hotel Employees and 
Restaurant Employees Union (HERE) Local 1 are preparing for a September 1 
strike against some of the nation's premier hotels as tough contract 
negotiations continue.

Local 1 is trying to bring Chicago hotel workers' pay up to the standard 
set in other major cities. Union hotel workers in cities like New York earn 
considerably more.

The hourly pay of a room attendant in Chicago averages US$8.83 (approx. 
A$16); the average is US$18.15 in New York and US$12.03 in Boston.

Furthermore employees in other major cities including New York, Washington 
DC and Los Angeles also receive medical insurance for themselves and their 
families, while Chicagoans are forced to pay US$85 a month for health 
coverage.

Hotel executives at luxurious Chicago hotels like the Hyatt Regency, 
Hilton, Ritz-Carlton and Drake claim that since September 11 there is no 
money to raise employees' pay in Chicago, the nation's most profitable 
hotel market. But the union says hotel business here is the best in the 
country.

The union's slogan for the current negotiations and possible strike is "I 
love NY pay", which employees display proudly on buttons. However, strike 
preparation is more than talk. Local 1 and national HERE are building 
substantial political support.

The union has launched a media blitz to educate the public and reporters 
about the importance of their aims. Local 1 has already collected over 
seven tonnes of food for striker food baskets. National HERE and the local 
union have pledged to provide US$200 a week strike pay.

If this is not enough to show hotel executives that Chicago's employees 
mean business, Local 1 members marched through the centre of the city's 
hotel district on August 23.

As union members were busy making banners for the September action, Rachel 
Chambers, a member of the negotiating committee, told the People's Weekly 
World that management had resorted to intimidation tactics.

Since negotiations started, she has been scheduled for a shift till 11:30pm 
and another shift at 6:30am the next morning, despite the fact that she has 
an hour and a half commute by public transportation.

"I think it is retaliation", she said. "They are trying to break the 
strike."

She noted that hotel management gets free parking and consistent schedules 
while workers have to pay over US$30 a day for parking.

"They demand so much from us", Chambers said, "but when it comes time to 
negotiate they give us nothing." After pay raises, family health coverage 
is the union's next priority.

"I can't afford to pay the medical bills for my husband's ulcer 
medication", said Chambers.

Chambers started as a hotel housekeeper and said she believes the 
housekeeping staff are the most unnoticed but the most essential to the 
hotel business. "I'm not getting paid to do union work", she said, "but I'm 
going to stand up."

Lars Nesdad, Local 1 communications director, declared, "We are doing 
everything we can to prepare in the event of a strike. We have a lot of 
community support."

Fitzpatricks Hotel workers recalled a speech by management saying that 
staff and managers were "one family". Employees wonder where that family is 
now.

As White, Black and Hispanic workers painted banners reading "We can do it" 
and "Si se puede", they seemed to have found a family in the union, all 
working toward the same goal, a fair contract.

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