Hotel union to operators: You can afford to pay those laid-off workers

Unite HERE, which says thousands of its Chicago members are out of jobs, called on large hotel chains to keep paying their employees despite amid mass layoffs, furloughs

TRD CHICAGO /
Apr.April 14, 2020 12:00 PM
Unite HERE is calling on hotel operators, like the one that owns Hilton Chicago, to keep paying its laid-off workers. (Credit: Lymantria via Wikipedia Commons/Flickr)

Unite HERE is calling on hotel operators, like the one that owns Hilton Chicago, to keep paying its laid-off workers. (Credit: Lymantria via Wikipedia Commons/Flickr)

Chicago’s largest hotel union says its thousands of furloughed and laid-off members should be paid, arguing their parent companies can easily absorb the extra cost, and that the loss of salaries is devastating local neighborhoods.

Leaders of Unite HERE Local 1, which represents 7,600 city hotel employees, made the demand Monday, saying nearly all of its members were now without jobs as a result of the pandemic, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago hotels, which have been decimated by the coronavirus and ensuing statewide stay-at-home order, had an occupancy rate of 7 percent in the week that ended April 4, according to the most recent report from hotel research firm STR. Many of the hotels have been shuttered, and the few that remain open are housing Covid-19 patients and those who may have been exposed to the virus.

With roughly 6,000 members residing in Chicago, Unite HERE estimated that local neighborhoods were losing around $5 million a week, the Sun-Times reported.

Karen Kent, who is the local union president, told the outlet that the city’s hotel industry was flush with cash in what had been a booming time for hotels before the virus and could afford to pay its employees.

It singled out Park Hotels & Resorts, which has a 2,000-key hotel portfolio in the city, including Hilton Chicago. The company, union officials said, could retain its employees without making a dent in its $1.3 billion of cash on hand, according to the Sun-Times. The company did not have a comment.

Last month, the Unite HERE’s national chapter called on five publicly-traded hotel operators to cease dividend payments and share repurchases while workers laid off because of the pandemic struggle financially.

And last week, the state awarded $10 million in emergency grants to 700 small hotels, restaurants and bars that have been forced to shutter. The money will help pay workers and business expenses. More than 12,000 businesses applied for the grant funding. [Sun-Times] — Alexi Friedman


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