|Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional
May 30, 2013--A 10-year strike at the Congress Plaza hotel in downtown Chicago -- believed to be the longest hotel strike in the world --has ended.
An attorney for the hotel said Unite Here Local 1, the union representing cleaning and maintenance workers, has offered an unconditional return to work as of midnight Wednesday. The union confirmed Thursday morning that it is ending the strike.
"The decision to end the Congress strike was a hard one, but it is the right time for the union and the strikers to move on," Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamarin said in a statement. "The boycott has effectively and dramatically reduced the hotel's business. ... There is no more to do there."
The next step is still in question. Many of the 130 workers that originally went on strike have found new jobs or crossed the picket line and returned to work at Congress Plaza. If any strikers choose to come back to Congress as part of the "unconditional" return, terms call for them to be paid the same as they did more than a decade ago.
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.
Congress Plaza Hotel attorney Peter Andjelkovich called the move a surprise. He said the union and the hotel haven't sat down at the negotiation table in a year.
Andjelkovich said there are still many legal and logistical issues related to the employees' return that still need to be worked out. In a press conference at the hotel Thursday morning, Andjelkovich said the hotel and union officials are planning to meet to facilitate the next step.
He said the company currently employs a staff of between 300 and 500, with wide variances between the high and low seasons. It's filled in the positions vacated by striking workers mostly with sub-contracted employees, but there have also been between 30 and 40 picketers that have returned to work, he said.
The strike began on June 3 of 2003, when 130 Congress Hotel workers walked out in response to the hotel's planned wage cuts, health care contribution freezes and the right to contract out some jobs.
The union says that it has found jobs for about 60 of those original workers, leaving only a few dozen remaining that could potentially return under Thursday's deal.
The strikers have picketed regularly and held large rallies over the years, though only about half of the original group remained as active strikers by the protest's third anniversary. Workers were paid $200 a week to strike, forcing most to take on second jobs.
Congress Plaza was constructed in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exhibition and housed such presidents as Grover Cleveland, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. But the hotel fell on hard times and filed for bankruptcy protection in 1995, appraised at the time at just $20 million.
The hotel is led by the Nasser family, a wealthy group that holds investments in textiles and other global businesses.
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