CHICAGO — Beginning at 5:30 a.m. Sept. 7, thousands of hotel workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 1, went on strike here to demand year-round health care and wage increases. Their union contract expired Sept. 1. Housekeepers, doormen, bellhops, cooks, waitresses, repair persons and others are walking 24-hour picket lines at 25 downtown hotels.
Rafaela Sandoval has worked as a waitress for five years at the Wyndham Hotel Grand. “During the slow period in winter our hours get cut or we get laid off. Then in spring we lose our medical benefits,” she told the Militant. “We need health insurance no matter what our hours were the previous months.”
“Pay raises are needed for some of the lower paid workers, like the bellhops, who get by from what they get in tips,” said Jose Solis, a repair person at Wyndham. “But fewer people carry cash these days.”
One of the biggest picket lines, with hundreds participating, is at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, which has 2,000 rooms. “The hotel has hired scabs through a temp agency and management is also being organized to do our jobs,” said Demechio Brown, who has worked 12 years as a bar porter. “The Hyatt is a billion-dollar hotel and can easily afford better wages — for bellhops and doormen especially.”
The picket line at the Hyatt includes workers originally from China, Cambodia, India and Mexico, as well as African-Americans and Caucasians born in the U.S.