Hilton workers in Chicago launch 3-day strike

October 17, 2010 2:13:57 PM PDT
Hundreds of workers at the Hilton Chicago have walked off the job, launching a three-day strike.

Workers at Hiltons in Honolulu and San Francisco began striking earlier this week.

With the union's hotel contract expiring more than a year ago, employees in Chicago joined the three-day work stoppage by walking the line either before or after their shifts.

Workers in Chicago and at the other locations claim that Hilton wants to lock them into cheap recession contracts even as hotels rebound.

Hilton workers accuse the hotel giant of not wanting to offer competitive wages and benefits, although it appears the company erased some of its debt by accepting millions in bailout money from the federal government.

Earning an hourly wage of less than $8 per plus tips, bellman Derek Hanson says he is outraged.

"They want us to do more work. They want to subcontract jobs that are union jobs, and they're doing this all when they received $180 million in taxpayer money," said Hanson.

Hilton released a statement calling the strike an "unnecessary step," and saying that "union tactics such as work stoppages and demonstrations will do nothing to bring us closer to a new contract."

"Hilton employees currently are paid competitive wages and enjoy many generous benefits, including fully paid health insurance with virtually no employee contribution," Hilton Hotels said in the statement.

According to published reports, the Federal Reserve Bank wrote off $180 million in debt that Hilton owed U.S. taxpayers.

Blackstone, one of Wall Street's largest private equity firms, and owner of Hilton Worldwide, also got $4 billion in government assistance.

"The company is still trying to squeeze workers by locking them into cheap recession contracts," said Local 1 spokesman Annemarie Strassel.

The union has proposed wage increases up to 7 percent annually.

"It's unfair for the hard workers to come in and do the hard work and we don't get a raise," said Hilton hotel housekeeper Kim Bass.

Although hotel operations appeared normal with management helping out, some guests still found the picketing troubling.

"It kind of disturbed the morning, but I guess they have their issues," said Jana Baichtal, a hotel guest from southern California.

The workers plan to protest both Sunday and Monday as contract negotiations continue with no agreement in sight.

Hilton released the following statement to ABC7:

This morning UNITE-HERE Local 1 commenced a three-day work stoppage at the Hilton Chicago. Despite this action, the Hilton is operating as normal, with sufficient staffing in all departments. The work stoppage has had little impact on our guests. The hotel's restaurants and nearly all other amenities and services remain open and available to guests. We will continue to operate and maintain our usual service standards for the duration of this temporary labor action.

It is unfortunate that Local 1's leadership has chosen to take this unnecessary step. Union tactics such as work stoppages and demonstrations will do nothing to bring us closer to a new contract. They are harmful to employees, to the hospitality industry and to the City of Chicago. Instead of taking actions that drive business out of Chicago, Local 1 should return to the bargaining table so that we can resolve our differences.

Hilton employees currently are paid competitive wages and enjoy many generous benefits, including fully paid health insurance with virtually no employee contribution. Hilton has offered to increase wages, to increase contributions to protect employee pensions, and to substantially increase its health fund contributions so that employees can continue to enjoy health care with virtually no employee contribution. Yet, even under current difficult economic conditions and with 10% unemployment, the union also continues to insist on wages increases of up to 7% annually and several other very costly proposals.

Hilton historically has had productive relationships with UNITE HERE throughout the United States. We remain committed to negotiating a long-term contract that continues to provide our valued employees with job security, competitive wages, virtually free health care, and pension and other benefits. However, UNITE HERE Local 1's work stoppage - timed to coincide with work stoppages in other cities - confirms that the union's real goal today is to advance union interests that have nothing to do with Chicago or our employees. Local 1 should cease these harmful tactics and get back to the bargaining table.


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