Congress Hotel strike marks 7th anniversary

June 14, 2010 (CHICAGO) The union says that makes it the longest strike in American history.

Workers went on strike in 2003 in a dispute over wages and benefits. Dozens of Congress Plaza Hotel workers walked off the job.

The hotel says 30 of those workers have crossed picket lines and returned to work. Sixty former workers remain active strikers including, Jose Sanchez, who --for 23 years-- was employed as a cook. And Sanchez says his salary was on the high end.

The workers say they're fighting to keep their benefits and want higher wages.

"The company has not offered one cent more than they had on the table when we walked out seven years ago tomorrow," Sanchez said. "Still getting paid $8.83 an hour at this hotel."

But the hotel says the wages and benefits are comparable to other hotels in the city. The Congress Hotel's chief negotiator says the union is making unreasonable demands, and it's up to Unite Here Local 1 to end the strike.

"Rather than sit down at the bargaining table and negotiate a reasonable contract, the union puts on rallies, parades, brings speakers. They don't address the issues," said the hotel's Peter Andjelkovich.

Union workers say recent renovations inside the hotel are proof that the Congress Hotel has the money to pay higher wages and better benefits.

"This hotel, this property, is over 100 years old. It requires constant upkeep, and if we're not doing it, the hotel would not be competitive with other hotels," said Andjelkovich.

As it has in the past, this year's strike anniversary has brought out the politicians. Congressman Luis Gutierrez says it's also about the rights of immigrants.

"Something's going to happen. We're not going to back down," Sanchez said.

ABC7 is told the union leader never thought the strike would last seven years. He says he is hopeful it won't last another seven but he admits that both sides are equally stubborn.

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