Membership elects first woman President in local union’s century-long history
[Chicago] – The members of UNITE HERE Local 1, the union of hospitality workers in Chicago, have elected Karen Kent as their President. Henry Tamarin, who has served as Local 1’s President since 2001 stepped aside for new leadership to represent the union’s 15,000 members. Kent is the first woman in the century-long history of Local 1 to be elected President. UNITE HERE Local 1’s membership is predominately female, comprised of hotel housekeepers, school lunch ladies, airport retail staff and other workers in Chicago’s hospitality industry.
Kent got her start in the hospitality industry over 20 years ago, working first as a waitress and later leading a campaign of fellow hotel workers to form a union in Palo Alto, CA. Since that time, Kent has worked her way to the top of UNITE HERE’s leadership, leading organizing drives in Las Vegas, New York City, Chicago and beyond. Before becoming President, she served as Executive Vice President of Local 1 for six years.
“I am honored to serve as Local 1’s President,” said Kent. “I am proud of what our union has accomplished under Henry’s leadership. I’m confident that we can build on that success, but it’s going to require taking some real risks.”
Kent has played a key role in leading the transformation of UNITE HERE Local 1 into a dynamic grassroots organization that has achieved significant victories on behalf of working people in Chicago. In the last decade, Local 1 has organized thousands of new workers in to the union and doubled wages for housekeepers and other hotel workers in Chicago. UNITE HERE Local 1 has made headlines in recent years with high profile campaigns at the Congress Hotel, Chicago Public Schools, and Hyatt Hotels.
“Karen is focused and fearless. She is committed to our membership and beats a steady drum,” said Fairmont Hotel cook Misti Crull. “It’s an exciting time for our union.”
Along with Kent, UNITE HERE Local 1 has elected Lou Weeks as its Executive Vice President. Weeks got his start in the labor movement with UNITE HERE unions at Yale University, where he received his undergraduate degree. For the last decade, Weeks has worked as an organizing director in Chicago, leading living wage campaigns for food service workers at regional airports and universities.
“In recent years the labor movement has experienced significant challenges and major victories. We need leadership that not only reflects who our union is, but where we are going,” said Tamarin, who will continue his work with UNITE HERE International Union. “It’s time for a new generation to lead Local 1.”
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. Read Kent’s and Week’s bios here.