UNITE HERE and Starwood Hotels reach settlements in Chicago

After 20 months of negotiations, labor pact allows 3200 area hotel workers to share in industry recovery

After 20 months of bargaining, UNITE HERE Local 1 and Starwood Hotels have reached settlements in Chicago. The agreement affects 1200 Starwood workers at the Sheraton Hotel, Westin Michigan Avenue, Westin River North, W Lakeshore, W City Center, and the Tremont, as well as approximately 2000 workers in 16 other hotels, where hotel operators have signed pattern agreements tied to the Sheraton contract. Agreements were ratified by Starwood workers yesterday, April 19, 2011.

Coming on the heels of a settlement with Hilton Worldwide in early March 2011, the agreement between UNITE HERE and Starwood represents another major breakthrough in citywide hotel negotiations and a path forward for hotel workers as the hospitality industry emerges from the recession. Nationwide, the hotel industry is already rebounding faster and stronger than expected. Smith Travel reported that for year end 2010, revPAR was up 5.5% nationally. PKF Hospitality projects that hotel revenues will rise an average of 8% annually from now through 2014.

The new contracts include decent wage increases and improved job stability language, while preserving low-cost, high-quality healthcare and pension benefits for hotel workers and their families at a time when nationwide these employee benefits are being cut. Over the life of the contract, wages for non-tipped workers will increase $1.80, raising the wage of a housekeeper, for instance, from $14.60 today to $16.40 when the contract expires in 2013.

“This settlement is good for Chicago, good for Starwood and good for our members,” says Henry Tamarin, President of UNITE HERE Local 1.

“More and more work was being subcontracted out, even while my friends and coworkers were laid off. I’m proud to say that our new contract will stop that from happening,” says Diane Chestnut, a cocktail server at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. “Now that the hotel recession is behind us and profits are up, it’s important that jobs come back too.”

Agreements for Starwood and other hotel workers in downtown Chicago expired August 31, 2009. Since that time Starwood hotel properties have faced numerous labor demonstrations, including pickets, a limited duration walkout in August 2010, and a brief boycott, launched on April 1, 2011.

The settlement with Starwood effectively resolves all remaining hotel contract disputes in Chicago, except those with Hyatt Hotels and the Congress Hotel, the site of the longest hotel strike in history.