CHICAGO — “Every winter when the hotel business slows down, the lower seniority workers get laid off or our hours get cut. Then the hotel owners say we don’t work enough hours to get health insurance, and we’re without until business picks up. That’s the main reason we’re on strike,” said Laura McKinney, a housekeeper at the Holiday Inn with two years on the job. “We need year-round health insurance. Having no health insurance for months can be very expensive.”
McKinney was one of more than 3,000 striking hotel workers and their supporters marching and rallying here Sept. 13. The union contract covering the workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 1, expired Sept. 1. The strike involves some 6,000 workers at 26 hotels. Picketing is 24/7. This is the biggest strike in years in the Chicago area.
The march began in the downtown loop and ended up at the Palmer House on the North Side. There was real excitement in the air because this was the first time strikers from all 26 hotels gathered together.
Bennie Scott, who has worked at the Hilton for 16 years, told the Militant that he’d been on strike there before. “But this is much better, with all of us striking together, instead of hotel by hotel,” he said.
He said the bosses are really trying to speed up the work and to make workers do multiple jobs. “Everyone is tired of it,” he said, adding, “if it wasn’t for the union, half of us would be fired.”
Maria Barragan is originally from Guerrero, Mexico, and has worked as a housekeeper at the Hilton for eight years. “Over the years we took on more and more work. Since they laid off customer service workers a while back,” she said, “we now do some of that work also.”
“Not only do we want year-round health insurance, we want to maintain our vacation days, and our sick days pay,” said Lanita Payton, who works as a room attendant at the Palmer House. “We want to live better.”
Ahiraz Maher, originally from Sri Lanka, has worked five years at the Kinzie Hotel as a doorman. “We take luggage to and from rooms, do paperwork for the valet and other things that come up from the customers. We get $10 per hour pay and count on tips,” he said. “The problem is these days most people don’t carry cash, so our tips are down 80 percent.”
The strike is having an impact. Some hotel restaurants have been forced to close down and at least two conferences have relocated.