September 1, 2003

Congress Hotel Workers Escalate Strike with with Civil Disobedience, Arrests

Amid a morning of heavy rain, striking workers at the Congress Hotel made history by engaging in the first civil disobedience in front of the Congress Hotel. The action occured on Labor Day near the corner of Congress Parkway and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

At 10:51am, on September 1, 2003, twenty members of the striking union (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, Local 1), wearing light organge plastic rain ponchos, sat down across Michigan facing north, with arms interlocked. With hundreds of fellow strikers and media personnel watching, police immediately broke up the protest. The twenty were greeted with cheers and singing as police then escorted them to two police paddywagons parked in front of the Congress Hotel.

The action was preceded by a number of brief speeches. The first was given by noted labor historian and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Studs Terkel, who accused the owner of the Congress Hotel as being a "neanderthal." Other shorter speeches followed, including one given by Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon, and another given by Marvin Daniels, one of the striking workers who also was one of the twenty arrestees.

The Congress Hotel strike is itself also a historic first--the first hotel strike in Chicago history. The strike began on Father's Day, June 15, 2003, when Congress Hotel management unilaterally imposed a contract that mandates a 7% wage cut, unlimited right to subcontract and no raise for four years. In contrast, all of the other 24 downtown Chicago hotels won a contract settlement which included a 54% increase in wages and benefits for the life of the contract.

In another irony of history, Labor Day weekend 2003 marks the one-year anniversary of that historic hotel contract settlement, which even saw then- Illinois-governor George Ryan partake in the negotiations.

Members of the union anticipated the twenty arrestees to be released later in the day.

The picket line for the Congress Hotel strike will be held for the duration of the strike each day from 4am to 11pm at the Congress Hotel, 520 S. Michigan Ave., downtown Chicago.