Chicago, IL—Today, strikers at the Congress Hotel, joined by hundreds of community supporters and members of UNITE HERE Local 1, rallied outside the Congress Hotel to commemorate the 7th Anniversary of the Congress Hotel Strike, now the longest hotel strike in American history.
The event, led by keynote speaker Congressman Luis Gutierrez, gave recognition to the strikers who are immigrants to the United States and honored them for their struggle to lift job standards for all workers in the Chicago hospitality industry. In so doing, strike supporters at the rally called both for an end to the strike at the Congress Hotel and immigration reform in the United States.
An overwhelming majority of the courageous individuals who have led the longest hotel strike in American history at the Congress Hotel are immigrants to the United States. Working families in Chicago have made astounding gains in recent years because the Congress strikers have refused to settle for substandard wages. At the time that the strike began, Chicago housekeepers were making just $8.83 an hour, compared to $14.60 an hour today. The strikers at the Congress Hotel stand as a powerful example of how immigrant workers in the United States are leading the fight to raise standards for low-wage workers in the service industry and beyond.
“The United States was built by immigrants, who came here and fought to make jobs in this country better,” said Henry Tamarin, the President of UNITE HERE Local 1—the union of hospitality workers in Chicago. “The Congress Hotel strikers continue that tradition today.”
On June 15, 2003, members of UNITE HERE Local 1 working at the Congress Hotel went out on strike after the hotel decided to freeze wages until 2010, refused to pay healthcare premiums for its employees (effectively eliminating employee healthcare benefits), and demanded the ability to subcontract out all bargaining unit work at the hotel. To ensure that hotel jobs in this city are strong, family-sustaining jobs, Congress strikers have taken the fight to the streets of Chicago, New York, the Philippines, and around the world. There are about 60 active remaining strikers, who both actively picket the Congress hotel and lead campaign statewide to bring an end to the Congress Hotel Strike.
Since the time that negotiations began, the Congress Hotel has never offered a proposal with increases in wages or the company’s share of healthcare costs from the rates listed in the contract that expired in 2002.
“It’s been hard over the last few years, but I’m doing this for my kids—and for all the other hotel workers with families in this city. I want to leave things better for those who come after me,” said Dolores Contreras, a single mother of three and a striker who worked at the Congress Hotel as a banquet server before the strike began.