Hilton workers strike, protesting $180M Hilton bailout

Chicago workers join wave of Hilton strikes seeking to “Share the Recovery”

(Chicago, IL) – Citywide union hotel contracts expired more than a year ago, and today hotel workers at the Chicago Hilton are walking off the job, launching a three-day strike protesting Hilton’s efforts to lock workers into the recession. Outraged that Hilton finagled $180 million in bailout funds but is still squeezing workers, hundreds are picketing today, wearing signs that read “Taxpayers on Strike”. The strike in Chicago join strikes at the world’s largest Hiltons in Honolulu and San Francisco, which began earlier this week.

Hilton Worldwide, owned by one of Wall Street’s largest private equity firms – Blackstone – is taking unfair advantage of its workers and the American taxpayers. Hilton got $180 million of bailout funds not meant for wealthy hotel owners when the Federal Reserve wrote off some debt Hilton owed U.S. taxpayers. Meanwhile, Hilton wants lock workers into cheap recession contracts even as hotels rebound.

Hilton is on the forefront in the hotel industry in Chicago this contract cycle of pushing a program that would dramatically increase the room quota for housekeepers, lowering the standard of cleanliness for guests, speeding up work, and eliminating jobs. Given the physical nature of the work, such a speed up could result in more injuries for housekeepers who already face difficult and sometimes dangerous working conditions.

“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. “The bailout money was supposed to protect jobs, but Hilton is destroying them. I already have to take pain medication to get through the day, and the room-cleaning increases that Hilton is proposing for housekeepers at my hotel just might break me all together. ”

The striking workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 1, and include housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, bell staff, food servers, and others. Hilton workers are among 8,000 other hotel workers in the Chicago area whose contracts expired on August 31, 2009. In August 2010, Hilton 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, with 96% of union members voting in favor of a strike. The Chicago Hilton and Hilton O’Hare are owned by Hilton and all four are Hilton-managed.

“An issue of deep concern to Chicago, which has faced a loss of convention business in the last year, is Hilton’s introduction of a dramatic increase to the housekeeping workload—what we call the “Dirty Rooms” program,” says UNITE HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin. “Despite having benefited from millions in taxpayer dollars, Hilton’s proposals threaten to lower the standard for cleanliness and guest service at one of the city’s premiere convention hotel properties.”

Blackstone Group [NYSE: BX] manages $100 billion in assets for large pension funds and other investors around the country. Nationwide, the hotel industry is already rebounding faster and stronger than expected. PKF Hospitality projects that hotel revenues will rise an average of 8% annually from 2010 through 2014. Despite trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are refusing to share that recovery with workers.

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.