World's Longest Hotel Workers' Strike Is Over

By Chuck Sudo in News on May 30, 2013 9:20PM

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Photo credit: Aaron Cynic/Chicagoist

Striking workers at Chicago’s Congress Hotel in the South Loop ended a near decade-long strike Thursday. The strike is believed to be the longest strike in the history of the world. President Barack Obama walked the Congress Hotel's picket line as a freshman U.S. Senator in 2007.

130 Congress Hotel employees took to picket lines June 15, 2003, after the hotel froze wages, refused to pay their health care premiums and looked to outsource their jobs to workers earning minimum wage. UNITE HERE Local 1, the union representing the striking workers, announced the end to the strike in a press release midnight Wednesday and confirmed the strike’s end Thursday. UNITE HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin said in the statement the end to the strike was “unconditional,” meaning that workers who wish to return to the Congress will earn $8.83 an hour and work under the conditions they went on strike for originally. The average wage for hotel attendants in Chicago in 2013 is $16.40 an hour.

Congress Hotel attorney Peter Andjelkovich said Tamarin told him the strike “had gone long enough” when asked why UNITE HERE was ending the strike now. Tamarin tried to accentuate the positives in the statement announcing the strike’s end. “The decision to end the Congress strike was a hard one, but it is the right time for the Union and the strikers to move on. The boycott has effectively dramatically reduced the hotel’s business. The hotel treats their workers and customers equally poor and the community knows it. There is no more to do there. The reclusive owner lives in Geneva and Tel Aviv and hasn’t been to Chicago since the strike started. We don’t see getting a contract here, and we have many more battles to fight for economic justice.”

Nearly 60 of the Congress Hotel’s workers who went on strike 10 years ago have found other jobs or crossed the picket lines to return to work at the Congress. An estimated 60 workers still walked the picket lines as of the strike’s ninth anniversary in 2012.