With the 10th anniversary of the Congress Hotel strike approaching, UNITE HERE Local 1, the union representing Chicago’s hospitality workers, announced the end of strike. It is widely recognized as the world’s longest strike and has received support in a broad segment of the community.
On June 15, 2003, Father’s Day that year, 130 members (100% of the workers) of UNITE HERE walked out on strike after the hotel unilaterally reduced their wages, froze their health care contributions, and demanded the right to subcontract out all the work to minimum wage subcontracted workers. The strikers have picketed regularly ever since and held mass rallies over the years. Prominent political leaders including U.S. Senator Barack Obama, Governor Pat Quinn, President of Cook County Toni Preckwinckle, and numerous others have walked the line in support of the workers.
An overwhelming majority of Congress strikers are immigrants to the United States and showed how low wage workers could lead the fight to raise the standards for hospitality workers and other low wage workers.
When the Congress strikers went out on strike the standard wage for room attendants was $8.83 per hour. The city wide standard for room attendants is now $16.40 an hour. Congress hotel room attendants still make $8.83 per hour.
“The decision to end the Congress strike was a hard one, but it is the right time for the Union and the strikers to move on. The boycott has effectively dramatically reduced the hotel’s business. The hotel treats their workers and customers equally poor and the community knows it. There is no more to do there. The reclusive owner lives in Geneva and Tel Aviv and hasn’t been to Chicago since the strike started. We don’t see getting a contract here, and we have many more battles to fight for economic justice,” said UNITE HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin.
The Union has found jobs for over 60 strikers over the years and is looking for more. It has made an unconditional offer to return to work on behalf of the strikers, but it is unclear whether any strikers will choose to.