Feds to prosecute Kimpton Hotels for alleged threats against housekeepers

Contact: Joe Shansky (312) 623-5382, jshansky@unitehere1.org

59 alleged violations of federal labor law at downtown Hotel Monaco and Hotel Burnham

strikemonaco

Kimpton workers on strike in April

On April 30th, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Chicago Regional Office issued a federal complaint against Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group for allegedly interrogating employees about their union activities, threatening firings, and threatening loss of wages and benefits if they chose to unionize at the Hotel Monaco and Burnham Hotel downtown.

According to the NLRB complaint, which can be found here, alleged violations by Kimpton management and select staff at both hotels include: 

·         Creating the impression of surveillance of employees engaged in protected, concerted activity;

·         Threatening unspecified reprisals for engaging in protected, concerted activity such as distributing union flyers

·         Interrogating employees about union membership, activities and sympathies

·         Threatening to take away benefits and/or withdrawal of benefits if employees select the Union as their bargaining representative

The complaint follows last month’s one-day strike by housekeepers calling for the Hotel Monaco to remain neutral as employees decide whether or not to unionize.

“All we want is to be able to make the choice for ourselves about forming a union,” says Jorge Jamaica, a houseman at the Hotel Monaco for the past 5 years. “I don’t understand why our managers won’t let us have the freedom to decide, but I’m glad the Labor Board is seeking an order that will make them to stop doing things that violate our right to organize.”

The NLRB General Counsel found sufficient basis to prosecute unfair labor practice charges that include twenty-eight allegations at the Hotel Monaco, and thirty-one at the Hotel Burnham. The trial is scheduled for July 21 in Chicago.

Workers at both hotels first approached hotel management in November 2014 to demand a fair process to decide on unionization, which guarantees no interference or opposition from management.

Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group operates four Chicago hotels. UNITE HERE Local 1 represents workers at the Hotel Allegro and Hotel Palomar, where workers won a union contract in 2012 after the hotel agreed to a fair process to organize.

Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group was purchased by Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC (LON:IHG) last December.

The Hotel Monaco is owned by Xenia Hotels and Resorts (NYSE:XHR), a recently spun-off affiliate of Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc. The Wall Street Journal recently dubbed Inland American a “zombie REIT” for its failure to wind down and return cash to shareholders. Inland American’s new name is InvenTrust Property Corp. The Hotel Burnham is owned by Lone Star Funds, a private equity fund manager.

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents over 6,500 hotel workers in downtown Chicago.

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Rivers Casino workers rally for a fair process to organize a union; call for Rush Street Gaming’s “New York Deal”

ProgressILRivers3-14-14Despite pledging to abide by a fair organizing process in New York, Neil Bluhm’s casino management company refuses to stop intimidation and harassment tactics in Des Plaines

DES PLAINES, IL– Over one hundred casino and hotel workers lined the road leading into Rivers Casino today to protest managers’ continued anti-union practices and call for a fair process to organize a union at the casino.

Although the company recently pledged to abide by a fair process for a planned casino in upstate New York, Rush Street Gaming, majority owned by Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm, has refused to agree to the same process to respect workers’ rights to organize their union in Des Plaines.

“Rivers Casino needs to stop attacking us so we can get a fair process for Chicago,” said Linnea Dominiek, a server in the VIP lounge at Rivers for the past three years.  “Why is Rivers refusing the same fair deal my coworkers in upstate New York will get?”

The rally capped three weeks of demonstrations at each of Neil Bluhm’s US casinos (Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and now Chicago/Des Plaines).  Casino workers from each of the Pennsylvania casinos traveled to Des Plaines to stand with their coworkers.

The Rivers Casino conflict escalated early last year outside Chicago when dozens of unfair labor practice charges, including intimidation and harassment of workers, were found to have merit by the General Counsel to the National Labor Relations Board.

UNITE HERE Local 1 has been supporting workers organizing at Rivers in Des Plaines.

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Housekeepers On Strike at Chicago’s Hotel Monaco

strikemonacoHousekeepers at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Chicago are on strike today to demand a fair process to organize a union.

They held a rally and press conference today at 11:00 am at Daley Plaza, with union and non-union housekeepers from across Chicago.

Workers at the Hotel Monaco first approached hotel management in November 2014 to demand a fair process to decide on unionization. A fair process is an agreement where the employer pledges not to interfere while employees decide whether or not they would like to join a union. It guarantees no interference or opposition from management.

The Hotel Monaco is among four Chicago hotels operated by Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group. UNITE HERE Local 1 currently represents workers at two Kimpton hotels in the city, the Hotel Palomar and Hotel Allegro. Workers at the Hotel Palomar won a union contract in 2012 after the hotel agreed to a fair process to organize.

In a March survey of 11 out of 21 total housekeepers at the Hotel Monaco by UNITE HERE, 72% said that they regularly have to work during one or more breaks to complete their required tasks. Only two workers reported that their 8.5-hour shift was enough time to clean their rooms and take their required breaks.

“I love my job, but it has been very difficult. I clean sixteen rooms every day. When I get home from work I feel pain all over my body,” says Maricela Gonzalez, a housekeeper at the Hotel Monaco for 15 years and mother of three children.

“Instead of playing with my daughter when I get home, sometimes I collapse on the couch and she helps rub my sore feet because I’m too tired to move.”

In 2014, non-union Hotel Monaco employees like Maricela had to pay at least $1,500 per year for individual health insurance with a $3,000 deductible, or $8,000 per year for family coverage with a $6,000 deductible.

But unionized Kimpton employees in Chicago at the Hotel Palomar and Hotel Allegro pay nothing for individual coverage, or $360 per year for a family plan.

“When we organized, we won the right to a fair process without management interference, and through that process decided that we wanted union representation. After we chose Local 1, we negotiated a contract, and today I pay only $30 per month for health insurance for my whole family,” says Yarmelli Garcia, a lobby attendant at the Hotel Palomar. Yarmelli’s husband Jesus is a striking housekeeping assistant at the Hotel Monaco.

The Hotel Monaco is owned by Xenia Hotels and Resorts (NYSE:XHR), a recently spun-off affiliate of Inland American Real Estate Trust Inc. Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group was purchased by Intercontinental Hotels Group PLC (LON:IHG) last December.

UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union, represents over 6,500 hotel workers in downtown Chicago.

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Ameristar Casino Workers Launch Boycott of Company Over Health Insurance

Contact: Joe Shansky (312) 623-5382, jshansky@unitehere1.org

unionprideboycottameristarEmployees urge customers to stay away from Ameristar until labor dispute is settled

EAST CHICAGO, IN – As of Wednesday March 4th, workers at Ameristar Casino in East Chicago are asking customers to gamble elsewhere until Ameristar settles a union contract that maintains workers’ current Union health care plan.

Union workers had been in negotiations for over two years at three Northwest Indiana casinos: Blue Chip, Majestic Star, and Ameristar Casino, which was bought last year by Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., based in Las Vegas. Pinnacle has proposed eliminating the affordable, family-supporting health care that Ameristar’s 200 union workers currently enjoy.

Ameristar refuses to settle – instead proposing a company health plan which charges employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions for family coverage. Under the current union plan, employees pay nothing for individual coverage and $30/month for family and dependent coverage.

“When the casinos came to Northwest Indiana, they promised good jobs. Now they’re asking us to literally choose between putting food on the table and our families’ health,” says Natalie Mijares, a 34 year old bartender and mother of two at the casino. Mijares, who has worked at Ameristar for nine years, is a union shop steward.

“I grew up in a Steelworker family. That means we’re proud, and we’re fighters. We’ve been in Indiana for my entire life.  Pinnacle just got here. I’ll be damned if I let them destroy the standards we built,” Mijares added.

“Without family-supporting health care, we might as well work at McDonalds,” says Marina Castillo, a 32 year-old beverage server and mother of four.  “My co-workers and I are prepared to ask our customers to boycott the casino if that’s what it takes to get a fair contract.”

Blue Chip Casino settled with the union in December 2013, agreeing to keep employer-paid union health insurance for individuals and families. In November 2014, Majestic Star workers ratified their contract which allows for workers to maintain their union healthcare coverage as well. Workers cite keeping that healthcare coverage among their top concerns in negotiations for the new contracts.

The boycott announcement has galvanized the Northwest Indiana community, drawing endorsements from Congressman Pete Visclosky, Northwest Indiana Federation of Labor, which represents 42,000 members, United Steelworkers Local 1014, and the United Steelworkers Local 7-1, currently on strike at BP in Whiting, among others.

Ameristar Casino is now the only union riverboat casino in Northwest Indiana to refuse to continue the family-supporting Union health care plan for its union workers.

Ameristar reported revenue of $17.6 million in January 2015. In comparison, workers like Castillo make around $16,000 in wages a year. If the Ameristar health care plan were implemented, nearly a quarter of her income would go towards the company plan.

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents nearly a thousand workers at three Northwest Indiana casino properties: 200 workers at Ameristar, 300 workers at Majestic Star, and 450 workers at Blue Chip Casino.

 

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Chicago-based United Airlines Facing Food Worker Protests

Airport catering workers call for affordable health care in new national campaign

CHICAGO — Airline catering workers in Chicago and across the U.S. say their healthcare is too expensive, leaving many uninsured or under-insured.  They’re launching an unprecedented national campaign calling on major airlines such as United– many of which are reporting record profits – to fix the problem.   

Today workers in O’Hare’s catering kitchens rallied near United Airlines’ downtown headquarters. They delivered a letter and photo petition to United’s CEO representatives on behalf of over 10,000 airline catering workers at 42 U.S. airports, requesting that United earmark one nickel per passenger ticket towards more affordable healthcare options for workers.  Additional campaign launch events are taking place in 17 cities across the U.S, coordinated by UNITE HERE, a union representing 27,000 airline workers in the airline food industry. In Chicago, Local 1 represents approximately 900 airline catering workers.

“I pay more than $400 each month, almost an entire week’s paycheck, for insurance,” said Natasha Hill, a 19-year employee who services planes for United, Delta and other airlines at O’Hare International Airport. “On top of that I have to pay $10,000 out of pocket before my family even starts seeing the benefits.  But I pay because my two sons need health insurance.”

Employed in every major airport, airline food workers clean dishes, prepare meals, ensure security and transport the food and beverages consumed aboard thousands of flights each day.  They play an integral role in the smooth operation of airline itineraries, but according to a 2014 analysis of nearly 10,000 contracted airline catering workers nationally showed over 40 percent make less than $10.10 per hour.

Such low wages position industry workers between a rock and a hard place: unable to pay the premiums of so-called “minimum value plans,” but ineligible to purchase more affordable options from health care exchanges.  Over one-quarter of workers surveyed by UNITE HERE reported being uninsured.  In other cases, they pay annual premiums for company offered health care of over $1,900 for individuals and over $5,000 for families – all on top of an additional $5,000 minimum deductible.  As a result, many workers struggle to make ends meet: in the aforementioned survey, 25% of airline catering workers reported receiving some sort of public assistance.

Meanwhile, the U.S. airline industry is booming: United earned $1.97 billion net income in 2014.  Yet United and other airlines continue to squeeze the food workers in their supply chain, paying catering companies an average of only $2.50 per passenger for food—nearly $2.00 less than 2001 rate for similar services.   As profits soar, catering workers are seeking their fair share.

For more information on the campaign, visit www.nickelaticket.org.

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Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. takes over Ameristar Casino, refuses to agree to keep union health insurance for workers

As Majestic Star Casino ratifies union contract, Ameristar workers head into the new year fearful of losing affordable family-supporting healthcare 

With the Majestic Star Casino workers ratifying their union contract with UNITE HERE Local 1 last month, Ameristar Casino is now the only union riverboat casino in Northwest Indiana to refuse to continue the family-supporting union health care plan for its 200 union workers.

The Union had been in negotiations for over two years at three Northwest Indiana casinos: Blue Chip, Majestic Star, and Ameristar Casino, which was bought last year by Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc., based in Las Vegas.

Blue Chip Casino settled with the union in December 2013 to keep its employer-paid union health insurance for individuals and families. Only two weeks ago, Majestic Star workers ratified their contract with the union to allow for its workers to maintain their union healthcare coverage as well. Workers cite keeping that healthcare coverage among their top concerns in negotiations for the new contracts. 

But Ameristar refuses to settle – instead proposing a company health plan which charges its employees up to $4,000 per year in payroll deductions for family coverage. Under the current union plan, employees pay nothing as individuals, and $30/month for families and dependents.  

“We don’t gamble with our health,” says Marina Castillo, 32, a beverage server at the casino for the past four years. “It’s insulting that while other people in the industry are doing the same jobs, they can live without the same fears of having to choose between putting food on the table and medical bills.”

Castillo is a mother of four. “We already make poverty wages, and the only good thing this job affords us is the union health insurance,” she says. “Now they want to take that away?”
 
Meanwhile, Ameristar just reported a revenue of $19.77 million in November 2014, and $18.53 million in October 2014.

In comparison, workers like Castillo make around $16,000 a year. If the Ameristar health care plan were implemented, nearly a quarter of her income would go towards the company plan.

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents nearly a thousand workers at the three properties: 200 workers at Ameristar, 300 workers at Majestic Star, and 450 workers at Blue Chip Casino.  Union contracts at Blue Chip Casino and Majestic Star Casino were settled in December of 2013 and November of 2014, respectively.  

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Holiday Layoff Fears Spark Chicago Hotel Housekeepers to Protest “Fake” Green Program

Reporting workplace injuries and lost hours, local housekeepers join actions in 30 countries for “Global Week of Action for Dignity & Safe Work” 

This holiday season, Chicago’s hotel housekeepers say a new initiative billed as eco-friendly could instead cost them their jobs. Housekeepers report that Starwood​ Hotel’s controversial “Make a Green Choice” program has led to workplace injuries, lost hours and income for their families, and more chemicals being used on the job. 

The program, which housekeepers in other cities have already dubbed “Fake Green”, rewards guests​ for going for days without cleaning their rooms by providing various small incentives at the hotels such as a $5 credit at the bar or restaurant. When guests check out, housekeepers have to clean rooms that have not been cleaned for days. 

The “Green Choice” program has been widely seen as a way for hotels to cut labor costs rather than conserve energy. Not only do housekeepers get reduced hours when guests use it, but they are forced to work much faster to maintain the same room quota when those rooms are ready to be cleaned. Where an average room might usually take 30 minutes to clean, after three days of no service that same room can take an hour and a half – often times using three times the amount of cleaning products. 

Local 1 represents 3,000 housekeepers in the city. This is the first time the program has been publicly denounced in Chicago. 

Chicago housekeeper actions are being organized in conjunction with housekeeper actions thirty other countries across Europe, Africa, Asia/Pacific Islands, and North America, as part of a “Global Week of Action for Dignity & Safe Work” between Dec. 3-10.  The events will culminate in an international press conference in Sao Paolo, Brazil on December 12th. 

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Chicago Hotel Workers Call on Bruce Rauner to Return Controversial Campaign Contribution from Inland Real Estate Group

Union urges Rauner to return $25,000 contribution from firm made as affiliate Inland Commercial Property Management held state contract

Chicago, IL – Chicago hotel workers are calling on gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner to return a campaign contribution from the multibillion-dollar Inland Real Estate Group, which has ties to a state contract worth over $200,000. Rauner has said he wants to stop the chokehold that special interests have on our government, but new information has come to light that casts doubt on his commitment to ethics reform.

On Wednesday at 1:00 pm, Chicago hotel workers who are members of UNITE HERE Local 1 are rallying outside of Rauner’s downtown campaign office to urge the candidate to reject the real estate company’s contribution.

Rauner accepted a $25,000 contribution from the Inland Real Estate Group, a $16 billion company headquartered in suburban Oak Brook, made as its affiliate Inland Commercial Property Management held a contract with the Illinois Department of Central Management Services worth over $200,000. While state legislation bans contributions from entities that have or are seeking state contracts, it fails to reach sister companies of those entities.

“The left hand of Inland should not be able to give large dollars to politicians while the right hand holds lucrative state contracts,” said Jordan Fein, Research Analyst with UNITE HERE Local 1. “If Bruce Rauner is serious about ethics reform, as he has stated repeatedly, he will return Inland’s money, and he will do it today.”

The Inland Real Estate Group and its chairman are both tied to Inland Commercial, owning 12.5% and 10% of the company, respectively. Inland’s chairman is the former board chair and a current director of Inland Commercial’s sole owner and is also chairman, president and majority owner of the Inland Real Estate Group’s sole owner.

Another affiliate of the Inland Real Estate Group, Inland American Real Estate Trust, was under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as of June 30, 2014. 

Chicagoland’s hotel workers familiar with Illinois’ history of political corruption are hungry for change. “Bruce Rauner said he wants to stop the chokehold that special interests have on our government, but Inland’s contribution may well be just more of the same,” UNITE HERE Local 1 member Demetrius Jackson, who has worked at the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown Chicago for seven years.

Other Illinois politicians have also taken contributions from Inland affiliates. The Inland Real Estate Group contributed $15,000 to Illinois Treasurer candidate Tom Cross as its affiliate Pan American Bank held a contract with the Treasurer’s office worth over $100,000. Current Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford has also received $12,500 in donations from companies related to Inland from April 29, 2005 to August 22, 2012. 

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

As the wages of contractor workers in Thompson Center cafeteria are about to rise to at least $10.35, layoffs are expected

Workers call on Governor Quinn to protect their jobs

 

Chicago, IL – Today, food service workers at Great State Fare in the Thompson Center are calling on Governor Quinn to protect their jobs. Sodexo, the food service company that employs Great State Fare workers, is leaving its post at the State of Illinois building putting all 29 workers’ jobs at risk, some who have worked at the cafeteria for over two decades. Layoffs are expected to begin in the coming days. Workers are rallying outside of the State of Illinois building, home of Governor Pat Quinn’s Chicago office.

Sodexo workers at Great State Fare have recently ratified a collective bargaining agreement that improves their wages. The new contract would bring the lowest paid worker up to $10.35 an hour – more than the minimum wage increase to $10.00 that the Governor has been advocating. Yet, as the company plans to leave in the coming weeks, workers will not make it to the wage increase they’ve bargained for.

“Just as we’re about to make a more livable wage, we’re losing our jobs,” said Maria Sanchez, Sodexo worker at Great State Fare. “I’ve been able to rely on this job to support my family for over 20 years. But, now, I don’t even know if I will have job next week.”

In Illinois, a full-time worker earning the state minimum wage of $8.25 an hour makes approximately $17,000, which is far below the Federal Poverty Threshold of $19,790 for a family of three. By increasing the minimum wage to just $10.00, those that earn the current minimum wage would make an extra $4,800 a year.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers and casino workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.

Federal agency: Rivers Casino settles unfair labor practice charges with Union

Rivers Casino promises it will not threaten, discipline workers organizing for a fair process

Des Plaines, IL – Rivers Casino Des Plaines settled unfair labor practice charges filed by the hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 1 for intimidation and harassment of workers seeking a fair process for union representation and maintenance of unlawful workplace rules. As part of the settlement recommended by government attorneys, the casino agreed to inform employees of their right to organize for a fair process to decide whether to form a union free from intimidation and threats. The settlement was approved by the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB Region”) and represents an important victory for workers at the casino who have been organizing since October 2013 in response to unsafe working conditions, understaffing, and lack of job security.

The casino has responded to workers’ efforts to organize with an aggressive anti-union campaign including threats, surveillance, and other intimidation. Since last November, UNITE HERE Local 1 has filed three unfair labor practice cases with 60 allegations of unfair treatment and illegal work rules.  The casino revised its rules, and the union withdrew one case and related allegations. Attorneys for the NLRB Region found merit to numerous remaining allegations and recommended Rivers Casino settle with the Union to repeal unfair work rules, to remove unfair discipline, and not to threaten employees.

“We will not let Rivers Casino bully us into fear from standing up at work,” said dishwasher Rosaura Villanueva who explains that management told her to “shut up” when she voiced her support for the Union. “I feel vindicated that the federal government has stepped in and protected us against harassment and intimidation from casino management.”

The settlement requires the casino to make 25 specific commitments to employees in its notice—including that it will not interfere with their rights to act together for their own benefit and to join a union. The casino must notify workers that they have the right to talk about a union, and it will not discriminatorily stop them from talking about a union during working time. Among the 25 promises, the casino must explicitly promise that it will not threaten workers with loss of health benefits, job loss, or unspecified reprisal.

Workers at the casino have called for the company to agree to allow employees to decide whether to form a union through a fair process without management harassment or intimidation. Chicago billionaire Neil Bluhm is the chairman of the company that owns Rivers Casino.

Employees of Bluhm’s Rivers Casino Pittsburgh and SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia are also organizing for a fair process. In September 2013, Rivers Pittsburgh settled 29 federal unfair labor practice charges, avoiding further prosecution. Earlier this month, SugarHouse Casino settled charges from 2013.

In 2014, Rivers Casino has generated revenue through March greater than its two closest competitors combined.

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UNITE HERE Local 1 represents approximately 15,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago area and Northwest Indiana.