Facing layoffs and cuts as travel business rebounds, hotel workers protest
(Chicago, IL) – At 10:45am this morning, nearly 200 hotel workers at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, managed by Starwood Hotels, walked off the job in protest of layoffs and chronic understaffing that have persisted for months despite a big boost in travel business and rising Starwood profits. Hundreds of housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, bellmen and other hotel workers picketed the hotel for two hours before returning to work around 1:00pm.
Workers report that working conditions at the Sheraton have deteriorated over many months, with staffing cuts that have continued, even as travel business has rebounded. In recent months, workers have filed a number of unresolved grievances to curb the staffing cuts and growing reliance on subcontracted services, which have left many hotel workers in Chicago without jobs or benefits. Today, workers led a delegation to Sheraton General Manager Rick Ueno demanding relief from the growing strain of their work. Thus far, management has refused to adequately respond to worker concerns.
“This is peak travel season in Chicago, but Starwood just isn’t bringing people back to work,” says Jorge Mulasano, who has worked as an Assistant Sous Chef at the Sheraton for 7 years. “I walked off the job today, because I’m tired of our work being outsourced or doing the job of two or three people, when others still have no work at all.”
Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. In Chicago, hotel RevPAR (revenue per available room) is projected to be up 7.6% in 2010, up 13.8% in 2011, and up 8.1% in 2012. Starwood Hotels earned a net income of $73 million for the year ending December 31, 2009, the year that marked the depth of the recession. Starwood Hotels has earned a net income of $142 million for the 6 months ending June 30, 2010, as hotels recover from 2009. Starwood ended this last quarter with $154 million in cash.
Despite trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. More than 115,000 jobs in the hotel industry have been cut since the recession began in 2008—43,000 of which have come just in the first quarter of 2010 as the industry has projected recovery.
“I’m not surprised that Sheraton workers took this step today,” says Henry Tamarin, the President of UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union. “Frustration has been growing for a long time and people are angry that management is cutting staff and taking their work. There aren’t enough workers for all the work that needs to be done, and it needs to stop.”
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.