Some Thoughts On the End of the Congress Plaza Hotel Strike

congress hotel strike

The Congress Plaza Hotel strike ended on Wednesday, almost ten years after it started. The strike is believed to be the longest strike in American history.

The end of the strike is a bit of a sad note because during the time the strike was occurring the standard wage for room attendants in Chicago increased to $16.40 an hour while the standard wage for room attendants at the Congress Plaza Hotel hasn’t increased at all during the strike and will not increase now that the strike is over. (The standard wage at the hotel is $8.83 an hour, which is exactly 58 cents more than Illinois’ minimum wage.)

Although the possibly good things to come out of this strike are summed up by Micah Uetricht over at In These Times

Strikers were constantly picketing in front of the hotel on Michigan Avenue, one of the city’s busiest drags. During the last half-decade, they were less likely to be in front of the hotel and more likely to be paying unannounced visits to companies or conferences that had reserved blocks of rooms at the hotel, telling their stories of hardship at the hands of the Congress and demanding the reservation be canceled. These cancellations alone may have cost the hotel millions over the years.

When companies refused to budge, UNITE HERE would escalate its tactics, often driving their targets insane. I once accompanied the union to a 5K “fun run” for attendees of a healthcare conference whose organizers had refused to cancel their Congress reservations. Strikers jogged alongside baffled spandex-clad runners, shoving fliers in their sweaty hands and explaining the impact of the hotel’s intransigence on their families. One older organizer devised a complicated scheme to make runners believe he had laid a tripline across the trail––he would pretend to pull it taut ahead of them, causing confused runners to halt in their tracks.

I really recommend you read all of his post because it does a great job of detailing UNITE HERE Local 1’s efforts, as well as mentioning how much of a dive the hotel is. (Seriously, I have heard from numerous people that the Congress Plaza Hotel is crappy. Hyatt on the other hand is the subject of criticism for its treatment of workers, but does have reputedly nice hotels.)

Although UNITE HERE keeps a very detailed list of hotels currently on strike and being boycott, most tourists probably don’t look at that list when booking reservations and simply look at how inexpensive the hotel is, its great location and make the reservation. Many big clients who booked the hotel for events backed out because of UNITE HERE. According to the Tribune, a lawsuit between the hotel and the union alleged that the production company for America’s Next Top Model held a casting call at a different hotel than the Congress Plaza Hotel after the union reached out to the production company.

So on the positive side of the story regarding this strike, the union made their voice loud and clear to big groups that would have booked hotel and probably hurt business as a result. If there is a legacy from this strike, it might be that of union members working together to let people know that something is wrong and the effect it had on numerous people both in Chicago and out of the city.

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