Thousands of downtown hotel workers go on strike Friday

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thousands of workers from some of Chicago's biggest hotels walked the picket lines Friday despite the rain.

"It hasn't deterred our momentum," said Roushaunda Williams, a bartender at the Palmer House. "We are very ambitious about what we are doing. We are feeding off each other's energy."

Workers walked out at about 5 a.m. The workers include housekeepers, servers, cooks and doormen.

"Hopefully it's going to be difficult," said Carolina Sanchez, a Hyatt Regency banquet server. "Hopefully the managers have to do our jobs so they know how it feels."

Jessica Ramos has been a housekeeper for the Hyatt Regency Hotel along Wacker Drive for five years. The mother of four is fighting alongside her colleagues demanding year round health care.

"Every year we get laid off and I lose my healthcare for about three months out of the year and I have a family and I think it's unfair," she said.

"They make millions and millions of dollars. It's not a problem they should have giving us year-round healthcare or giving us a raise. Without us, they make nothing," said Tina Graham, a room attendant at the Palmer House.

More than 3,200 UNITE HERE Local 1 workers voted to authorize a strike and 97 percent voted yes. Their current contract expired August 31.

Striking workers are also demanding higher wages to keep up with the cost of living.

"Nobody knows how hard a Job is unless you do it yourself, so it's really hard, back-breaking job and we just think we deserve more," Ramos said.

Hotel workers are picketing at 25 downtown convention and boutique hotels including the Palmer House Hilton, The Allegro Hotel on Randolph, the Drake on the Gold Coast and the JW Marriott. All of the hotels remain open despite the strike.

For a full list of hotels, click here.

"It is tough, we're making them a lot of money," said busser Darnell Irving. "We just had Lollapalooza come around and they made a lot of money why not share with us?"

Strikers say they want the hotels and the three major hotel chains including the Hyatts, Hiltons and Marriotts to know that they are prepared to walk the picket lines as long as it takes.

"We just want a contract," Irving said. "We want them to come to the table and make a deal with us."

A Hyatt spokesperson released a statement on the strike saying, "Hyatt has a long history of strong relations with the unions that represent its colleagues. Hyatt and UNITE HERE have already come to successful agreements this year in other markets, and we will continue negotiating in good faith in Chicago.

Our colleagues are the heart of our business, and we respect their right to voice their opinions as the negotiations continue. Hyatt hotels have plans in place to continue operations.

We just completed our second negotiation meeting with Local 1 last week, where the union provided multiple proposals for the first time and indicated more will be forthcoming. Additional negotiation sessions between Hyatt and Local 1 are scheduled throughout this month. Colleague benefits and wages remain unchanged as we negotiate a new agreement.

Hyatt hotels in Chicago, like those across the country, offer competitive wages and benefits to our colleagues, including healthcare, various wellbeing initiatives and generous retirement contributions. We remain committed to fostering a safe, inclusive workplace that earns an average colleague tenure of more than 12 years and consistent recognition, including Hyatt's No. 9 ranking on FORTUNE's most recent Best Companies to Work For list. Our purpose is to care for people so they can be their best, and the wellbeing of our colleagues is our first priority."
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