Many hotel employees working without contract

September 1, 2009 3:29:55 PM PDT
More than 6,000 union workers in 30 hotels in downtown Chicago are working without contracts. Their labor agreements expired at midnight early Tuesday morning. Hotel workers say months of layoffs and understaffing have led to overworking employees who remain on the job.

The hotel workers union says it represents all the employees who do the heavy lifting, the housekeeping staff, restaurant workers and the bell staff. While negotiations have been underway since the beginning of August, the union says it will not stand for anymore cuts backs or layoffs. But, experts say, in this economy, workers mat not have a choice.

For years, Chicago hotels had a great run, but those profits tanked with the recession. During the past few months, occupancy and room rates have gone down forcing layoffs. Despite this, the union representing over 6,000 workers at 30 hotels believe the industry is using the economy as an excuse to cut back.

"They are going to use that at the bargaining table to get some leverage, and we are not going to stand for that," said Will Spain, bell captain.

"We help make the profits of the company we feel we deserve a part of it," said Susan Tynan, server.

The contract between major hotel chains and the hospitality workers union has expired. Talks with Hyatt Regency Chicago continued Tuesday. In a written statement from Hyatt Vice President and Managing Director John Shaffer, he said, "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."

But workers say they are being overworked, and their union leader says in this contract he will fight for gains, not givebacks.

"As a server, I'm being asked to work not just in the restaurant that I was hired for but a few other restaurants as well. I'm basically being a server in three different places," said Tynan.

"Our bottom line, however, is that we're not willing to give up the health insurance gains that we've made. We're not willing to give up the wages and we're looking for increases," said Henry Tamarin, Unite Here Local 1 president.

But, in this economy, Crain's Chicago business reporter Eddie Baeb says the hotels have the leverage and the union is likely to lose their argument that the industry is overplaying the bad economy.

"You can't dispute how bad business travel has been," said Baeb.

According to Crain's, Chicago hotels have taken a big hit because business travel and convention business is down. The union acknowledges that, however, workers believe the industry will rebound and hotels can afford to rehire laid off workers.

The contract dispute could get contentious. The union says if a fair settlement is not reached a strike is a possibility.


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