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Chicago hotel workers end strike after 10 years

Associated Press in Chicago

Striking hotel workers who became a familiar sight in Chicago as they picketed — for 10 years — are ending one of the longest strikes in American history, their union said Thursday.

The union offered “unconditionally” to halt the strike, which began at the Congress Plaza Hotel in June 2003 over disputes involving wage cuts and other issues. A hotel attorney said that means if the workers do return to work, they would do so under terms of the contract that expired a year before the strike began, including wages that the union argues are now half the city’s standard.

“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,” said Henry Tamarin, president of Unite Here Local 1, which represented the workers.

“There is no more to do there,” he said. “We don’t see getting a contract here.”

The strike ranks among the longest in the U.S., lasting about four years less than a strike in California at the Diamond Walnut Growers plant in Stockton that is believed by experts to be the longest in American history. The Chicago strike may, however, rank as the country’s longest among hotel workers, said Cornell University labor relations professor Ileen DeVault.

Hotel attorney Peter Andjelkovich said he was surprised by the union’s offer, which was included in a letter that Tamarin handed him — along with a list of 130 workers who had gone on strike — on Wednesday.

“I asked him, ‘What’s this?’ And all he said was it has gone on long enough,” Andjelkovich said.

But he noted that if the hotel agrees to accept the unconditional offer, there are many questions, including how many of the 130 workers are still available to return to work and how many jobs remain after the hotel hired replacements.

The workers would come back to jobs that pay far less than what other Chicago hotel workers earn, according to the union. The union said the standard salary for room attendance at the Congress is currently US$8.83 an hour, the same as when the strike started, compared to the citywide standard for room attendance of US$16.40 an hour.

In a written statement, the union said jobs have been found for more than 60 of the workers who went on strike since the walkout began. It also said it was unclear how many, if any, of the striking workers would want to return to their jobs at the Congress.