Hotel workers from Chicago supported and participated in a nonviolent civil disobedience action aimed at calling attention to the Hyatt Hotel chain’s working conditions on Thursday evening. The action was part of a nationally organized plan to target Hyatt and call attention to its lack of fairness and respect toward workers.
Fifteen cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Honolulu, participated in the planned actions and, in total, hundreds of workers from these cities were arrested for disrupting business as usual in the cities.
Chicago Breaking Business reported on the workers’ struggle:
"…Labor contracts affecting 6,000 downtown hotel workers expired 11 months ago, and labor negotiations so far have been unsuccessful. While the contracts affect workers at several hotel chains in Chicago, Unite Here has focused its efforts on Chicago-based Hyatt, controlled by the Pritzker family, holding it up as an example of a hotel chain that is using the economy as an excuse to take advantage of workers…"
People began to gather for the Chicago action, organized by UNITEHERE Local 1, around 4:30 pm CT and the sit-in began around 5 pm CT. The workers marched down the sidewalk on Stetson Avenue and on to Wacker Drive.
About fifty to seventy-five workers sat down in single-file horizontal lines during rush hour. With about ten to fifteen people in each line, they chanted, "We are human beings. Enough is enough." And, all of the workers were wearing T-shirts signifying that they were with UNITEHERE Local 1 or they had a piece of felt pinned on their back to show what hotel they worked for in Chicago.
As they sat blocking the street, hundreds stood in solidarity with the workers on the sidewalks watching the action develop. The Chicago media were present. And, the police had the area heavily controlled.
Minutes into the sit-in, an officer gave the first warning to get off the street because the workers did not have a permit. A second warning game minutes after that. The officer cited, again, the lack of permit and their violation of a city ordinance as reason why they would be arrested if they did not move.
Gradually, the workers in the back of the group stood and marched off of the street. For those who understood what was to take place, this was not planned. Around two hundred workers were going to be arrested, but out of respect for a killed police officer, whose wake was tonight and whose funeral was tomorrow, the workers chose to scale back their action and show respect toward Chicago police who wanted to go pay their respects to the officer and his family.
The third warning came as the last lines left the street. The officer warned those still in the street sitting down that they would be arrested now if they did not leave. Seconds later, they were stood up by police. They put their hands behind their back and were escorted over to the side of a building down the street away from the front of the Hyatt.
The action ended about 5:30 pm CT and around thirty people were arrested.
Reports on the event highlighted the fact that this is an ongoing struggle. In June of this year, workers protested at "Hyatt’s first shareholders’ meeting as a newly public company" and their labor practices were compared to the "Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Israelites" by religious leaders who were present.
And, in September 2009, around 200 workers were arrested when they demonstrated in support for "ongoing labor negotiations and for fired hotel workers in boston. At that action, the workers engaged in a sit-in in the middle of Chicago Avenue.
The Washington Post pointed out, in an article published before the action, that this union was "targeting one of President Obama’s biggest financial backers." But, at the protest, there were no noticeable signs of "friction," as suggested by this article.
However, workers were singling out Penny Pritzker, who serves on the board of the Hyatt Hotels Corporation. Pritzker has donated a combined total of $56,240 to DNC Services Corp and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The workers pledged to return and, given the history of the struggle against hotels in Chicago so far, it’s likely there will be another civil disobedience action in Chicago in the not-so-distant future.