CHICAGO — Hundreds of Hilton Chicago Hotel workers started a three-day strike Saturday that union officials say is in protest of the hotel chain’s efforts to "lock workers into cheap recession contracts."
Unite Here Local 1 spokeswoman Annemarie Strassel told The Associated Press workers began striking in Chicago early Saturday and won’t return to their jobs until early Tuesday. The union represents about 600 workers at the Hilton Chicago downtown.
Strassel said the employees have joined striking workers in San Francisco, who went out Wednesday, and in Honolulu, who went out Thursday. The Chicago workers include housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks, bell staff and food servers.
"Hilton wants to lock workers into cheap recession contracts even as the hotels rebound," she said early Sunday in a phone interview. "Workers simply want a share in the recovery."
The AP could not immediately reach hotel officials. But Hilton Chicago told the Chicago Tribune that the hotel is "operating as normal."
"Union tactics such as work stoppages and demonstrations will do nothing to bring us closer to a new contract," Hilton said in a statement. "They are harmful to employees, to the hospitality industry and to the City of Chicago."
Hilton said the wages and benefits its workers receive are "competitive" and that it offered wage increases and other advantages during negotiations.
More than 8,000 Chicago area hotel workers, including ones at five Hiltons, saw their contracts expire in August 2009. The sides have been unable to reach a deal.
Strassel said the strike is only affecting the Hilton Chicago, which is both owned and operated by Hilton Worldwide. One of the world’s largest buyout firms, Blackstone Group LP, owns Hilton Worldwide.
"We’ve been calling this strike a taxpayers’ strike because Hilton finagled $180 million in bailout funds when Hilton Worldwide was able to write off debt for the federal reserve that it owed American taxpayers," Strassel said.
Workers are picketing in shifts around the clock, carrying signs that read "Unite Here!" and "Taxpayers on Strike."
In Honolulu, members of the Unite Here Local 5 are striking for five days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. A union contract there expired June 30.