Hilton workers strike, protesting $180M Hilton bailout

Chicago workers join wave of Hilton strikes seeking to “Share the Recovery”

(Chicago, IL) – Citywide union hotel contracts expired more than a year ago, and today hotel workers at the Chicago Hilton are walking off the job, launching a three-day strike protesting Hilton’s efforts to lock workers into the recession. Outraged that Hilton finagled $180 million in bailout funds but is still squeezing workers, hundreds are picketing today, wearing signs that read “Taxpayers on Strike”. The strike in Chicago join strikes at the world’s largest Hiltons in Honolulu and San Francisco, which began earlier this week.

Hilton Worldwide, owned by one of Wall Street’s largest private equity firms – Blackstone – is taking unfair advantage of its workers and the American taxpayers. Hilton got $180 million of bailout funds not meant for wealthy hotel owners when the Federal Reserve wrote off some debt Hilton owed U.S. taxpayers. Meanwhile, Hilton wants lock workers into cheap recession contracts even as hotels rebound.

Hilton is on the forefront in the hotel industry in Chicago this contract cycle of pushing a program that would dramatically increase the room quota for housekeepers, lowering the standard of cleanliness for guests, speeding up work, and eliminating jobs. Given the physical nature of the work, such a speed up could result in more injuries for housekeepers who already face difficult and sometimes dangerous working conditions.

“Hilton’s business is coming back, but it seems like they want housekeepers like me to live in the recession forever,” says Sherri Steverson, a room attendant at the Chicago Hilton downtown, one of Hilton Hotels’ largest owned hotels. “The bailout money was supposed to protect jobs, but Hilton is destroying them. I already have to take pain medication to get through the day, and the room-cleaning increases that Hilton is proposing for housekeepers at my hotel just might break me all together. ”

The striking workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 1, and include housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, bell staff, food servers, and others. Hilton workers are among 8,000 other hotel workers in the Chicago area whose contracts expired on August 31, 2009. In August 2010, Hilton workers in Chicago voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at 4 area properties – the Chicago Hilton, Hilton O’Hare, the Palmer House Hilton, and the Drake, with 96% of union members voting in favor of a strike. The Chicago Hilton and Hilton O’Hare are owned by Hilton and all four are Hilton-managed.

“An issue of deep concern to Chicago, which has faced a loss of convention business in the last year, is Hilton’s introduction of a dramatic increase to the housekeeping workload—what we call the “Dirty Rooms” program,” says UNITE HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin. “Despite having benefited from millions in taxpayer dollars, Hilton’s proposals threaten to lower the standard for cleanliness and guest service at one of the city’s premiere convention hotel properties.”

Blackstone Group [NYSE: BX] manages $100 billion in assets for large pension funds and other investors around the country. Nationwide, the hotel industry is already rebounding faster and stronger than expected. PKF Hospitality projects that hotel revenues will rise an average of 8% annually from 2010 through 2014. Despite trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are refusing to share that recovery with workers.


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.
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Ameristar Casino Workers Settle Contract

New contract increases wages across the board, adds retirement benefits, and limits number of part-time jobs

East Chicago, IN – After a year-long contract dispute with Ameristar, members of UNITE HERE Local 1 ratified historic new contracts covering over 200 workers at the casino in East Chicago, Indiana. The contract settlement represents a major victory for workers at the casino, whose contracts expired on October 31, 2009.

Most significantly, the new contract includes language that protects jobs for Ameristar workers by guaranteeing limits on the use of part-time employees. Terms of the settlement also include retroactive raises across the board and first-time retirement benefits for Ameristar workers. Workers also were able to preserve health care coverage with no increases in costs to employees at a time when employers nationally are slashing employer-provided healthcare and raising health plan costs.

Ameristar workers have led a year-long campaign to raise awareness about the growing reliance on part-time workers to staff the casinos, leafleting, holding actions, and testifying before the Indiana Gaming Commission on the adverse effect of staffing cuts to the regional economy. The settlement, which limits the number of part-time workers with few or no benefits, will help to ensure that jobs in the Northwest Indiana gaming industry remain stable, middle-class jobs.

“This contract settlement is a victory for Ameristar workers and the region,” says Jami Peterson, a bartender who has worked at Ameristar for the last 13 years. “When gaming came to Indiana over a dozen years ago, these casinos were supposed to provide good jobs to replace the ones that were moving overseas. Now we have protections in the contract that ensure that more and more of us can go to the doctor, get off of welfare, or retire with dignity.”

Contracts between members of UNITE HERE Local 1 and three Indiana casinos, Ameristar East Chicago, Majestic Star Casino in Gary, and Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, expired October 31, 2009. UNITE HERE Local 1 settled a contract with Blue Chip in July 2010 and is still in negotiations with Majestic Star. In 2004, workers at these casinos won historic contracts that secured fully employer-paid health insurance for individuals for the first time. Workers cite keeping that healthcare coverage among their top concerns in negotiations for the new contracts. Layoffs and reduced hours, resulting in the loss of health insurance and other benefits, are among other top concerns.


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.

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Hyatt workers strike at Hyatt O’Hare

Days before Labor Day, workers facing layoffs and cuts protest how Chicago-based Hyatt and its billionaire owners are taking unfair advantage of tough times

Chicago, IL — Just days before Labor Day, workers at the Hyatt Regency near Chicago’s O’Hare Airport are on strike. Hyatt O’Hare workers join Hyatt workers in several cities across North America who are striking as part of a wave of demonstrations this week by thousands of hotel workers protesting Hyatt (NYSE: H) and its billionaire ownership family, the Pritzkers. Workers say the company is trying to make the recession permanent for its employees, despite significantly improving industry conditions and Hyatt’s increased profitability and huge cash reserves.

Union contracts covering Hyatt O’Hare workers and approximately 8,000 other Chicago-area hotel workers expired on August 31, 2009. On July 29, 2010, hundreds of Hyatt O’Hare workers, who are members of UNITE HERE Local 450, and UNITE HERE Local 1 members at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Park Hyatt, Hyatt McCormick Place, voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, with 92% voting in favor of striking. The vote represents a major escalation of a citywide labor dispute among Chicago’s downtown hotels and with Hyatt in particular, which has become the target of labor demonstrations across North America in recent weeks.
“Life has been hard for me and my family, ever since Hyatt laid off my husband in the laundry,” says Carmen Sandoval, a UNITE HERE Local 450 member and room attendant of 30 years at the Hyatt O’Hare outside Chicago, where union contracts expired over a year ago. “Now they have us working harder and faster with fewer people, and people are getting injured. I have to take Tylenol everyday just to get through my shift. I am on strike because I’m tired of billionaires profiting from our pain.”

Hotel workers have endured months of chronic understaffing and excessive injury rates. Now Hyatt wants to take more away and lock workers into recession contracts even as the economy rebounds. While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009. The most prominent member of the Pritzker Family is Penny Pritzker, the former national finance for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, who now serves on the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB).

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. Hyatt reported that as of June 30, 2010 it had over $1.6 billion in cash and short term investments available. Despite a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. While this marks a trend involving several major hotel companies, Hyatt is the starkest example.

“This Labor Day Hyatt workers are standing up to a company that has taken unfair advantage of this recession for too long,” says Bill Biggerstaff, the President of UNITE HERE Local 450. “Hyatt wants to lock workers into a permanent recession with cheap contracts and more cuts, and workers are fed up.”
In 2010, citywide hotel contracts covering 45,000 unionized hotel workers—including thousands of Hyatt workers—in cities across the U.S. and Canada will expire and be subject to bargaining. This week there will be Hyatt protests will be held in Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Honolulu, Toronto, Vancouver, Sacramento, Indianapolis, San Francisco, and Santa Clara.

 

UNITE HERE represents over 250,000 workers throughout the U.S. and Canada who work in the hospitality, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, laundry, and airport industries.
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Hundreds walk off the job at the Sheraton Chicago

Facing layoffs and cuts as travel business rebounds, hotel workers protest

(Chicago, IL) – At 10:45am this morning, nearly 200 hotel workers at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers, managed by Starwood Hotels, walked off the job in protest of layoffs and chronic understaffing that have persisted for months despite a big boost in travel business and rising Starwood profits. Hundreds of housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, bellmen and other hotel workers picketed the hotel for two hours before returning to work around 1:00pm.

Workers report that working conditions at the Sheraton have deteriorated over many months, with staffing cuts that have continued, even as travel business has rebounded. In recent months, workers have filed a number of unresolved grievances to curb the staffing cuts and growing reliance on subcontracted services, which have left many hotel workers in Chicago without jobs or benefits. Today, workers led a delegation to Sheraton General Manager Rick Ueno demanding relief from the growing strain of their work. Thus far, management has refused to adequately respond to worker concerns.

“This is peak travel season in Chicago, but Starwood just isn’t bringing people back to work,” says Jorge Mulasano, who has worked as an Assistant Sous Chef at the Sheraton for 7 years. “I walked off the job today, because I’m tired of our work being outsourced or doing the job of two or three people, when others still have no work at all.”

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. In Chicago, hotel RevPAR (revenue per available room) is projected to be up 7.6% in 2010, up 13.8% in 2011, and up 8.1% in 2012. Starwood Hotels earned a net income of $73 million for the year ending December 31, 2009, the year that marked the depth of the recession. Starwood Hotels has earned a net income of $142 million for the 6 months ending June 30, 2010, as hotels recover from 2009. Starwood ended this last quarter with $154 million in cash.

Despite trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. More than 115,000 jobs in the hotel industry have been cut since the recession began in 2008—43,000 of which have come just in the first quarter of 2010 as the industry has projected recovery.

“I’m not surprised that Sheraton workers took this step today,” says Henry Tamarin, the President of UNITE HERE Local 1, Chicago’s hospitality workers union. “Frustration has been growing for a long time and people are angry that management is cutting staff and taking their work. There aren’t enough workers for all the work that needs to be done, and it needs to stop.”

 

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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.

Chicago Hyatt workers call for boycott

Over 250 Rabbis and other Jewish leaders nationwide sign onto pledge in support

(Chicago, IL) – Today, UNITE HERE Local 1 members are gathering in front of Hyatt Global Headquarters in Chicago to call for a boycott at several area Hyatt Hotels—the Hyatt Regency Chicago, the Hyatt O’Hare, and the Park Hyatt. Hyatt workers will be joined by Jewish allies, who are releasing a pledge signed by over 250 Rabbis and other Jewish leaders nationwide in support of Hyatt workers across North America. The boycott and national pledge represent the latest escalation of a labor dispute with Hyatt, which has become the target of labor demonstrations across North America in recent weeks.

The boycott announcement comes almost one year after union contracts with Hyatt in Chicago have expired (Aug. 31, 2009). Hyatt workers have taken several actions in recent months, including a work stoppage on May 26, 2010, a picket of Hyatt’s annual shareholders meeting on June 9, 2010, a massive demonstration outside the Hyatt Regency Chicago on July 22, 2010, and a strike vote on July 29, 2010. Hyatt protests in Chicago have been echoed by other major demonstrations this summer in 15 cities across the U.S. and Canada.

The three Hyatt boycotts in Chicago, which join seven other active boycotts of Hyatt properties nationwide, signal a growing crisis for Chicago-based Hyatt and its billionaire owners—the Pritzker Family—who have become a symbol among hotel workers for how the wealthy are trying to take unfair advantage of the recession. Hotel workers in Chicago have endured staff cuts, reduced hours, and excessive injury rates. Frustration among area workers has deepened, as Hyatt has tried to make further job cuts and lock workers into recession contracts even as the economy rebounds.

“My husband works in the laundry and he was laid off, which has made things very difficult for my family,” says Carmen Sandoval, who has worked at the Hyatt O’Hare as a room attendant for 30 years. “I have also had many injuries over the years working in housekeeping, and I am calling for a boycott today because my family has suffered enough. We cannot allow Hyatt owners with their billions to use the economy as an excuse to make life even harder for us for years to come.”

While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009. Penny Pritzker, the former national finance chairwoman of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, who now serves as a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB). Hyatt reported that as of June 30, 2010 it had over $1.6 billion in cash and short term investments available. Despite these trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. While this marks a trend involving several major hotel companies, Hyatt is the starkest example.
“Justice for workers is part of the very DNA of Jewish tradition – and American Jews, we have a deep attachment to the history of the labor movement in this country,” says Rabbi Brant Rosen of Chicago. “Although these issues might not affect our community as directly as they used to, Jews still have a sacred responsibility to stand in solidarity with American workers whenever and wherever they are being treated unjustly.”


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.

Chicago Hilton workers vote overwhelmingly to strike

Hilton workers join thousands of other area hotel workers preparing for a strike

(Chicago, IL) – Today, Hilton Hotels workers in Chicago voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike at 4 area properties – the Chicago Hilton, Hilton O’Hare, the Palmer House Hilton, and the Drake, according to UNITE HERE Local 1 and Local 450. With 96% of union members voting in favor of a strike, the vote authorizes the rank-and-file bargaining committee to call a strike, if necessary. The Chicago Hilton and Hilton O’Hare are owned and managed by Hilton Hotels, while the other two are managed by the company.

Hilton workers are among 6,500 other hotel workers in downtown Chicago and over 2,000 hotel workers near Chicago’s airports affiliated with UNITE HERE Local 450 that have been in contract negotiations since August of 2009.

Hilton workers in Chicago have endured staff cuts, reduced hours, and excessive injury rates. Frustration among area workers has deepened, as Hilton has tried to make further job cuts and lock workers into recession contracts that raise family healthcare costs and flatten wages for years to come, even as the economy rebounds. Among Hilton’s proposals are dramatic increases to the already burdensome housekeeping workload, which jeopardize worker safety and make recession-driven staffing cuts permanent as business returns.

“Hilton’s business is coming back, but it seems like they want housekeepers like me to live in the recession forever,” says Sherri Steverson, a room attendant at the Chicago Hilton downtown, one of Hilton Hotels’ largest owned hotels. “I already have to take pain medication to get through the day, and the workload increases that Hilton is proposing for housekeepers at my hotel just might break me all together. I came here today with 90 other room attendants at the Hilton to the strike vote to say enough is enough.”

Hilton Hotels is wholly owned by Blackstone Group, one of the largest private equity firms on Wall Street. Blackstone manages $100 Billion on behalf of pension funds and other institutional investors. Hilton is Blackstone’s largest investment, bought for $26 Billion in 2007. Blackstone has continued buying companies despite the recession, offering $4.7 Billion for energy company Dynegy, Inc. just days ago.

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. Despite these trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff.


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.

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Chicago Hyatt workers vote overwhelmingly to strike

Facing prospect of a “permanent recession” as billionaire Hyatt owners prosper, area hotel workers gear up for strike

(Chicago, IL) – On July 29, 2010, UNITE HERE Local 1 members working at four area Hyatts—the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Park Hyatt, Hyatt McCormick Place, and Hyatt O’Hare—voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, with 92% voting in favor of striking. The vote represents a major escalation of a citywide labor dispute among Chicago’s downtown hotels and with Hyatt in particular, which has become the target of labor demonstrations across North America in recent weeks. The vote authorizes the rank-and-file bargaining committee to call a strike, if necessary.

Hyatt workers and 6,500 other hotel workers in downtown Chicago have been in citywide contract negotiations since August of 2009. On May 26, 2010 hundreds of workers at the Hyatt Regency Chicago walked off the job in protest of poor working conditions in housekeeping. On July 22, 2010 Hyatt workers and allies took part in a demonstration at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, in coordination with Hyatt protests in 15 cities across the U.S. and Canada.
The strike vote and other job actions by Hyatt workers signal a growing crisis for Chicago-based Hyatt and its billionaire owners—the Pritzker Family—who have become a symbol among hotel workers for how the wealthy are trying to take unfair advantage of the recession. Hotel workers in Chicago have endured staff cuts, reduced hours, and excessive injury rates. Frustration among area workers has deepened, as Hyatt has tried to make further job cuts and lock workers into recession contracts that raise family healthcare costs and flatten wages for years to come, even as the economy rebounds.

“The last two years have been really difficult for me,” says Tiffany Pollum, a room attendant at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. “Hyatt laid me off for 8 months, and I have a newborn baby to support. When I finally came back to work, several ladies in my department had thrown out their backs because of the new heavy mattresses and heavier workload at the Hyatt now. What was already a hard job just got harder, and I’m standing up to Hyatt, because their profits are coming back but we’re still in pain.”

While many hotel workers live in poverty, the Pritzker Family cashed out over $900 million in their sale of Hyatt shares in November 2009. The most prominent member of the Pritzker Family is Penny Pritzker, the former national finance chairwoman of Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. She now serves as a member of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board (PERAB).

Nationwide, the hotel industry is rebounding faster and stronger than expected, with a hearty rebound projected in 2011 and 2012. Hyatt reported that as of March 31, 2010 it had over $1.3 billion in cash available. Despite these trends showing a strong recovery for the hotel industry, hotels are still squeezing workers and cutting staff. While this marks a trend involving several major hotel companies, Hyatt is the starkest example.


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.
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