Major victory for Blackstone Hotel workers

Hotel ordered to offer jobs back with back pay and benefits
Union estimates lost earnings and benefits to total at least $250,000

Chicago, IL – In a major ruling this week, an administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that owners and management of the Blackstone Hotel had violated federal labor law by illegally firing workers, cutting staff benefits, and circulating a petition to decertify the union. The Blackstone Hotel was ordered to offer jobs back to 14 employees who were laid off on June 15, 2009 and compensate them with any lost wages and benefits resulting from the company’s unlawful actions against them, with interest. The decision represents an important victory for workers at the Blackstone Hotel, who have been battling the Hotel for more than a year to bring workers back to work and win a first contract.

Among the other significant rulings in this case, the judge also ordered the company to restore its 2008-2009 health insurance plan and compensate Blackstone employees for unlawful increases to health plan costs. The Hotel was also ordered to stop refusing to bargain with the Union on health plan coverage and layoffs.

Based on documents turned over by the Blackstone, the Union estimates that these lost earnings and increased benefit costs already total at least $250,000, and this amount is growing every day.

Community leaders have long criticized the owners and management of the Blackstone Hotel for their systematic efforts to dismantle the union, despite the hotel having received $72.9 million in taxpayer subsidies and credits ($40 million of which are tax credits meant to spur low income community development). As part of the ruling, the judge found that a Blackstone manager broke federal law by illegally encouraging and passing around a Union decertification petition. The judge’s decision reinforces an earlier decision issued by an NLRB Regional Director on Mar. 27, 2009, finding that the Hotel illegally encouraged and assisted some employees in circulating the decertification petition.

LaMar Johnson was one of the 14 workers laid off from the room service department. “I got married just 6 months before I was laid off from the Blackstone Hotel, and this last year has been a real struggle for me and my family. I haven’t even been able to buy a new pair of shoes. I’m gratified to know that the judge in this case sided with us and found that the hotel had broken the law. It feels like someone is actually looking out for the little guy.”

Workers at the Blackstone began organizing shortly after the hotel reopened in the summer of 2008, and the Union became officially recognized in December 2008. Workers began bargaining their first contract at the hotel shortly thereafter, and have been negotiating their first contract since.

“At every step, the Blackstone Hotel has skirted the law, waging a vicious and illegal anti-union campaign in an attempt to decertify the union and impede the collective bargaining process,” said UNITE HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin. “Now the Hotel wants to skirt the judge’s decision and their moral responsibility to these workers, by appealing this case and refusing to grant these workers what is rightfully owed to them.”

The Judge’s orders are directed to Sage Hospitality and Chicago Master Lessee, LLC. Prudential Insurance Company has an investor member interest in Chicago Master Lessee, LLC. The company has appealed the judge’s decision. Workers from the Blackstone Hotel and other union supporters gathered in front of the hotel on Thursday morning to call on the hotel to drop the appeal and immediately remedy the situation by bringing laid off workers back to work with compensation.

UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 15,000 workers in the Chicago area.