The largest hotel workers strike in Chicago in decades has been in effect since September 7, with no news so far this week from either side about a deal being close. So there's a rising possibility that attendees of meetings and trade shows coming to the city in the near future could be affected by compromised service at their host properties.
For the past two weeks, more than 6,000 housekeepers, cooks, doormen, bartenders, servers, and dishwashers who belong to UNITE HERE Local 1 have taken turns picketing outside 26 hotels, including Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, and Sheraton properties. The hotels' contracts with UNITE HERE employees expired on August 31 at 30 downtown hotels, and most are being negotiated separately. One of the biggest sticking points in the negotiations is the union's insistence on year-round health insurance for less-senior employees who are laid off during slower winter months. Hotel representatives from a few brands told local media outlets that they were disappointed the union called a strike, as both sides are continuing to negotiate and have not reached an impasse.
UNITE HERE says members in Chicago pay $50 or less per month for health insurance premiums, but the previous contract language did not provide for year-round coverage. In Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and New York, UNITE HERE local shops run their own not-for-profit healthcare clinics where members do not pay a premium.
Chicago's downtown hotels reported $1.45 billion in room revenue from January to July 2018, a 10.4 percent rise from the same period in 2017. With high season for events in Chicago likely to maintain that strong pace, affected hotels have hired temporary workers to fill service positions and also enlisted managers on property and from other properties around the country to take on housekeeping and other service duties. Among the first citywide events to come to town during the strike is the International Manufacturing Technology Show, which occupies McCormick Place this week with attendance of more than 100,000.
But two smaller conferences chose new venues so as to not cross picket lines. The Democratic Attorneys General Association's quarterly policy program with 200 attendees was relocated from a strike-affected property, while the 500-attendee Midwest LGBTQ Health Symposium also moved from its original host hotel.
In a statement similar to that of other affected hotel companies, Hilton Hotels and Resorts said this: “It is still early in the negotiations process, and [we are] committed to negotiating in good faith with UNITE HERE Local 1. We look forward to an agreement that is fair to our valued team members and to our hotels."