Congress Plaza Hotel workers end 10-year strike

May 30, 2013 3:21:58 PM PDT
After nearly a decade of walking the picket line, striking workers at Chicago's Congress Hotel offered to return to their jobs.

The workers union sent a letter to the hotel's attorney that made an unconditional offer to end the strike, bringing about an anti-climactic end to a very public battle.

"We're as surprised as anyone else in this regard because there have been no concessions and the fact that there's been no negotiations for almost a year," Peter Andjelkovich, Congress Hotel attorney, said.

After nearly a decade of periodic picketing in front of the Congress Hotel, there was no rally by the union and no on-camera announcement. Instead, a simple statement, "The decision to end the strike was a hard one. . . but it is the right time for the union and the strikers to move on."

"Any strike impacts business. So we can't say it had no impact," Andjelkovich said.

One hundred and thirty maintenance and cleaning workers of Unite Here Local One hit the picket lines on Father's day 2003 after the union was unable to agree with the hotel on pay and benefits. The union said dramatic cuts were sought by the hotel, which in turn said the union wanted nearly double what it had previously.

The union found early support in legendary writer Studs Terkel and then presidential candidate Barack Obama, who joined the picket lines in 2007.

"Four years ago I marched. I'm marching today. I'll march four years from now even if I'm President of the United States," Obama said then.

Over the years, some striking workers crossed the picket lines, others retired or found work elsewhere. In calling off the strike, the union agreed to return to work under the terms of the expired 2002 contract.

"This is a way to live and fight another day," Labor relations professor Bob Bruno said of the deal. Because of that expired contract, he said employment law may require the Congress to rehire at least some of the striking workers.

"They're going to bargain again as long as the union is legally present in place. I'm just not entirely sure when that will be," Bruno said.

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