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Will Chicago See a Hotel Strike?

By Kevin Robinson in News on Sep 1, 2009 5:40PM

Photo by swanksalot
Chicago's hotel workers are clocking in today without a union contract, as negotiators from UNITE-HERE Local 1 and the Hotel Employers Labor Relations Association has yet to reach an agreement on a new pact. The previous contract expired at last night at midnight. “It’s been a fight to even just get to the table,” a spokeswoman for the hotel workers’ union told Crain's. “We’re not close, and I think we’re looking at the possibility of a major fight.”

That's because while Local 1 fought to win raises over the last two contracts, hotel occupancy in the city is down this year in the wake of the recession. Employers say they need concessions to stay competitive, but the union says the hotels are manipulating layoff and overtime provisions in the contract to stretch the workforce. Local 1 is also concerned that cuts made now may not result in job growth when the economy turns around. "History shows that hotels may refuse to bring people back to work, even as the economy rebounds. Nationwide, big hotel corporations cut staff 17% when tourism was down after 9/11-and never brought those jobs back when profits soared in the years to follow," said a union press release.

"We are committed to keeping our employees working," said John Schafer, vice-president and managing director of Hyatt Regency Chicago, in a statement. "While we have had to make some tough business decisions that have impacted the jobs of some employees and managers, we continue to adjust the way we do business so that we can keep more people working." So will this result in a strike? "The goal is always to avoid a strike," said Lars Negstad, the local union's research director. "But, if the hotel companies provoke that, it’s up to the workers to decide whether we do that or not." In spite of the tough talks, it looks like both sides are still talking. “We’re talking and they’re talking,” says Arnold Karr, a negotiator for the hotels. “We have never had a strike, and I don’t anticipate a strike.”