UNITE HERE Local 1 sways key city council races

With hundreds of UNITE HERE Local 1 members knocking on doors this election season, the union representing hospitality workers in Chicago helped sway a number of key city council races. The union’s support helped land decisive victories for candidates such as Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward; 66% win) and Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward; 84% win), and helped Alderman John Pope survive a tough challenge in the 10th Ward.*

Local 1 members also worked hard to elect new Aldermen who will stand up for hospitality workers, supporting State Representative Harry Osterman (48th), and aiming to unseat long-time incumbent Bernard Stone (50th Ward) by backing Debra Silverstein. She will face Stone in a run-off election in April.

“I could not have gotten this far without UNITE HERE. I have been totally overwhelmed by the support they have provided to us, not just passing out literature in the neighborhoods but really taking the time to talk to people,” says Debra Silverstein, a candidate in the 50th Ward, whose aldermanic bid has pushed the longest-serving alderman, Bernard Stone, into a run-off. Stone is the key backer of the ownership of the Congress Hotel, where members of Local 1 have been on strike for more than 7 years.

By contrast, Silverstein has been a vocal supporter of Local 1 members. “I’ve heard from an airport worker about the conditions he was working under, and it was horrible. That needs to change. Everyone should have fair wages and health insurance.” In the weeks leading up to Feb. 22, Local 1 election canvassers knocked on over 10,000 doors in the 50th Ward alone.

UNITE HERE Local 1 provided support to 21 candidates for the 2011 Chicago aldermanic races, focusing on candidates who have shown leadership on issues important to its members in the hospitality industry, such as a living wage for airport workers, support for area Hyatt and Congress Hotel boycotts, and the creation of good jobs in public venues like the public schools and McCormick Place.

The union of housekeepers, dishwashers, and cooks represents workers across Chicago’s hospitality industry, including downtown hotel workers, food service workers at area colleges and universities, airport service workers at both Chicago airports, and casino workers in Northwest Indiana. The union has made waves in recent months with strikes and demonstrations taking on hotel heavyweights like Chicago-based Hyatt and Hilton. The union also represents workers at the Congress Hotel, who have sustained a seven-year strike—the longest hotel strike in recorded history. In this election cycle, Local 1’s diverse membership has turned its attention and energy to several key aldermanic races, in the hopes of growing the ranks of city leaders who support working people in the region’s hospitality industry with initiatives like the airport living wage ordinance.

*Results for 22nd Ward represent 84% of the precincts reporting