Unite Here Local 1 ended an epic strike that began in 2003 against the Congress Plaza Hotel in downtown Chicago this week. The union agreed to an unconditional return to work at midnight on Wednesday. The decision to end the strike came as a surprise to the hotel, which had not sat down with union officials in a year.
The strike was believed to be the longest ever in labor history.
The strike had gone on so long that most of the 130 hotel workers who had started it had long since moved on, either getting jobs elsewhere or crossing the picket line to go back to work for the hotel. Only a few dozen of the original strikers remained.
The union paid the strikers $200 a week to strike, forcing most to get second jobs. The remaining workers will come back to work under their old 2002 contract.
[Unite Here Local 1 President Henry] Tamarin said when the strike started, the standard wage for room attendants was $8.83 per hour — a wage contract workers still make. The city wide standard for room attendants is now $16.40 an hour, he said.
The hotel and union have been embroiled in litigation over the decade. The most recent lawsuit was filed by Congress just a month ago, accusing the union of targeting some of its most lucrative guests and urging them to stay elsewhere.
In one of the lawsuit’s examples, Congress alleged that the union sent a “cow pie valentine” — a heart shaped box filled with dry cow manure — to the offices of The National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, which was considering hosting a conference at the hotel. The center held its conference as scheduled, but the Congress Plaza said that the stunt reduced its expected related bookings.
In another example, the hotel alleged that the union reached out to the production company behind “America’s Next Top Model” and tried to dissuade it from holding a 2008 casting call for the reality show at the Congress. The production company ultimately moved the casting call.
The union says the lawsuit was unrelated to its decision to end the strike.
Redstate.com notes the strike was especially costly for the strikers:
This means that, based on a strike calculator, at $8.83 per hour, striking workers lost approximately $18,366 in wages (only) for every year they were on strike — or $183,660 over the ten years. Union bosses leading the strike, however, maintained their salaries and benefits.
So, after ten years of striking, losing nearly $200,000 in wages, and no new contract to go back to work under, one must ask: Was it worth it?