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Strikers at Congress Hotel organize civil disobedience

By Lauren Fleer | September 5, 2003 | Page 11

CHICAGO--Twenty protesters were arrested this Labor Day at the downtown Congress Plaza Hotel, where workers have been on strike for nearly three months. Hundreds more rallied on the sidewalk, singing "We Shall Not be Moved" and heckling the scab bellhops and clients with amplified levels of derision.

Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 1 organized this civil disobedience action in an effort to raise the stakes in its deadlocked battle with the hotel. Three months ago, the hotel imposed a 7 percent wage cut and eliminated health care benefits, leaving workers with little choice but to strike.

Top officials from other unions including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) were among those arrested, while Chicago author and historian Studs Terkel gave workers words of encouragement. Dennis Gannon, president of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) and member of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), was also on the front lines of the action.

The grim fact is, however, that IUOE and SEIU members are still at work inside the scab hotel. The building engineers--whose own contract expired more than a month ago--have actually been living inside the hotel since the strike started, so that they wouldn't technically have to "cross" the picket line. In reality, they are still providing their labor to a union-busting boss when they are in a unique position to help HERE workers win their strike.

Chicago fire code regulations require that building engineers be on site for city hotels to keep their doors open. IUOE Local 399 shouldn't be scabbing on this strike--the engineers should walk out and shut the Congress down to force the hotel bosses to negotiate.

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