|By Julie Wernau, Chicago
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
March 08, 2011--After 18 months without a labor contract, Hilton's unionized hotel workers in Chicago approved a four-year contract that maintains benefits at current levels and provides modest raises.
Hilton is the first major hotel chain in Chicago to settle with the union in negotiations punctuated by picketing, temporary strikes, demonstrations and boycotts.
"We are pleased to have achieved a fair settlement for all sides, one that allows workers to move forward and share in the robust recovery that the hotel industry is experiencing," said John Wilhelm, president of Unite Here, which represented the workers. "We applaud Hilton for leading the way and upholding a decent standard for service workers in the hospitality industry."
The Hilton settlement, voted on Friday, covers 1,600 workers at the Drake, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago Hilton and Hilton O'Hare.
Hilton had proposed that housekeepers clean more rooms, including some that needed only to be "refreshed" rather than completely remade.
Annemarie Strassel, a Unite Here Local 1 spokeswoman, said that under the new contract employees will clean the same number of rooms a day, roughly 16. A room attendant making $14.60 per hour will earn $16.40 an hour by the contract's end, Strassel said.
The new contract also maintains current health benefits, she said, which she said give employees coverage for their entire family for $30 per month. The contract did not add to out-of-pocket expenses or reduce health benefits, Strassel said.
Employees also cannot receive overtime when other, similar employees are temporarily laid off and available to work, according to the union.
A Hilton spokesman said the company was pleased with the agreement, which he called "good for our company and good for our team members."
Workers in San Francisco and Honolulu will vote on similar settlements this week, according to the union.
Hilton employees in the Chicago area had been among 8,000 who had been without contracts since August 2009. The union has been negotiating separately with the large hotel chains. Contracts affecting 1,800 Hyatt hotel employees and 4,600 workers at Starwood properties and other smaller hotels remain unsettled.
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