The strike, which the union called the longest hotel strike in history, was started in 2003 after hotel owner Albert Nasser pulled out of an agreement with the union and demanded wage cuts. This week, workers finally decided they had lost this battle.
“It is the right time for the union and the strikers to move on,” Local 1 President Henry Tamarin wrote in a statement, effectively ending the strike. “There is no more to do there.”
The picket line was a prominent sight for visitors to Chicago, who witnessed workers continue their strike in front of the hotel in all seasons, trying in vain to secure better wages. Nasser, the owner, hasn't visited Chicago since the strike began, but that didn't stop strikers from flying to Geneva to try to confront him.
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.
In its statement ending the strike, the union pointed out the standard wage for room attendants in Chicago is now $16.40 an hour. Congress hotel room attendants still make $8.83 an hour, which is what they did when the strike began.