On the Picket Line

Workers win strike over health care at several Chicago hotels

By Dan Fein
October 8, 2018

CHICAGO — “Nine down and 17 to go,” Beatriz Cervantes, a striker walking the picket line at the Palmer House here, told the Militant  Sept. 23. Originally from Mexico, she has 15 years seniority as a steward on night shift at this hotel. “The union won and workers have returned to work at nine of the hotels, including seven Marriott hotels, with five-year contracts with year-round health care. That’s the main reason we went on strike.”

“On behalf of striking members of UNITE HERE Local 1, we wish to thank the members of the Chicago Building Trades, the Teamsters, the Elevator Constructors, and the Chicago Federation of Labor for honoring our picket lines,” union President Karen Kent said after the victory.

Some 6,000 UNITE HERE Local 1 members, housekeepers, servers, cooks, doormen, bellhops and others, at 26 hotels had been on strike since Sept. 7.

In the winter, when hotel business is slower, bosses lay off workers or cut hours and cancel health care coverage.

“The victory at the Marriott hotels helps the rest of us win similar contracts with the year-round health insurance,” said Gino Gundogdu, a banquet captain at the Palmer House with 27 years on the job. “The Hilton hotels, which include the Palmer House, make over $2 billion in profits each year. They can share a little bit with us, who do all the work.”

Forty-one workers at the Villa Park Walmart just outside Chicago signed a solidarity message that we presented to Gundogdu. “Thank you, we need all the help we can get,” he said.

“I support the strike,” said LaQueshon Gushon, a Walmart worker who signed the solidarity card. “All workers need health insurance — the CEOs get it, why can’t the hotel workers?”