Protesters block traffic as
Chicago hotel strike marks one year
Special to Workers World
With a roar of approval from more than 1,000
demonstrators, 15 people--striking workers at Chicago's
Congress Plaza Hotel and their supporters--blocked Michigan
Avenue during rush hour on June 15 before being hauled off by
the police. Workers at the hotel have been on strike for a year
now. Their walkout is believed to be the first ever at a
downtown Chicago hotel.
"A year is a long time to be on strike," said striker Sharon
Williams. "But we're going to be out there as long as it takes
to win justice for ourselves and our families."
"We talk a lot here about how we can help each other," said
striker Alicia Rodriguez, 32, a housekeeping worker for 10
years. (Chicago Tribune, June 14)
"The Congress Hotel is a rogue employer with no respect for
its workers, its customers or the Chicago community," said
Henry Tamarin, president of Local 1 of the Hotel Employees and
Restaurant Employees union (HERE), who was one of those
The walkout by 130 courageous housekeepers, pantry workers,
telephone operators, bartenders and bell persons--most of whom
are women and Latin@--began last June. The workers went on
strike after the hotel's wealthy owners refused to agree to the
terms of a 2002 citywide contract that raised wages and
benefits at 27 other hotels throughout Chicago.
Instead, the greedy Congress bosses proposed a 7-percent
wage cut and no raises for the life of the contract. They also
refused to increase health and welfare payments (effectively
eliminating health and pension benefits) and tried to gut job
security by demanding the unlimited right to subcontract any
Finally, the owners tried to impose their last offer on the
workers--a violation of federal labor law for which they are
now on trial before the National Labor Rela tions Board.
Meanwhile, in December 2003 the hotel was charged with 68
categories of building code violations by the City of
Fighting a global empire
"The union is demanding a five-star hotel rate contract,
when we're not getting $400 a night for our rooms," claimed
hotel mouthpiece Peter Andjelkovich. (Chicago Sun-Times, June
In reality, the owners of the 850-bed Congress Plaza--the
fifth-largest hotel in downtown Chicago--are global
billionaires. Albert Nasser, a key investor in the limited
partnership that owns the hotel, is also CEO and chair of
Gelmart Industries, a major manufacturer of women's
undergarments. The owners want to wring profits from hotel
workers just like they super-exploit similar workers abroad.
But this also makes them vulnerable to cross-border labor
In a heroic show of international solidarity, Gelmart
workers in the Philippines staged a July 2003 demonstration in
solidarity with their striking sisters and brothers at the
Congress Plaza Hotel. In March 2004, a solidarity delegation
from HERE Local 1 visited Gelmart's factory in the Philippines
and issued a stinging report on labor violations there.
Workers at Gelmart's Philippine subcontractors say they make
less than $4 a day, are given impossibly high "quotas," and
lose a day's pay if they don't reach them in eight hours. They
are also forced to clock out at 5 p.m. even when they work
overnight until 8 a.m. Many workers complain of urinary tract
infections because they are afraid to take bathroom breaks for
fear of falling below the quota.
"[Our] report shows that Nasser's abusive business practices
literally span the globe," said HERE General President John
Wilhelm, who was in Chicago for the strike anniversary
A bargaining session is scheduled for June 28. The union
wants supporters to swamp management with calls and messages
demanding "Justice for the Con gress Plaza Hotel strikers." It
asks support ers to call (800) 635-1666 or (312) 427-3800 and
demand to speak with owner representative Shlomo Mahmias or
someone in management.
Details about making donations to the strike fund can be
found at www.congresshotelstrike.info.
Reprinted from the July 1, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
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