Chicago Hilton workers vote overwhelmingly to strike

Hilton workers join thousands of other area hotel workers preparing for a strike

(Chicago, IL) – Today, Hilton Hotels workers in Chicago voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at 4 area properties – the Chicago Hilton, Hilton O’Hare, the Palmer House Hilton, and the Drake, according to UNITE HERE Local 1 and Local 450. With 96% of union members voting in favor of a strike, the vote authorizes the rank-and-file bargaining committee to call a strike, if necessary. The Chicago Hilton and Hilton O’Hare are owned and managed by Hilton Hotels, while the other two are managed by the company.

Hilton workers are among 6,500 other hotel workers in downtown Chicago and over 2,000 hotel workers near Chicago’s airports affiliated with UNITE HERE Local 450 that have been in contract negotiations since August of 2009.

Hilton workers in Chicago have endured staff cuts, reduced hours, and excessive injury rates. Frustration among area workers has deepened, as Hilton has tried to make further job cuts and lock workers into recession contracts that raise family healthcare costs and flatten wages for years to come, even as the economy rebounds. Among Hilton’s proposals are dramatic increases to the already burdensome housekeeping workload, which jeopardize worker safety and make recession-driven staffing cuts permanent as business returns.

“Hilton’s business is coming back, but it seems like they want housekeepers like me to live in the recession forever,” says Sherri Steverson, a room attendant at the Chicago Hilton downtown, one of Hilton Hotels’ largest owned hotels. “I already have to take pain medication to get through the day, and the workload increases that Hilton is proposing for housekeepers at my hotel just might break me all together. I came here today with 90 other room attendants at the Hilton to the strike vote to say enough is enough.”

Hilton Hotels is wholly owned by Blackstone Group, one of the largest private equity firms on Wall Street. Blackstone manages $100 Billion on behalf of pension funds and other institutional investors. Hilton is Blackstone’s largest investment, bought for $26 Billion in 2007. Blackstone has continued buying companies despite the recession, offering $4.7 Billion for energy company Dynegy, Inc. just days ago.

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. Despite these trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff.

UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over
15,000 hotel and food service workers in Chicago and casino workers in Northwest Indiana.

# # #