THE LOOP — A nearly decade-long workers strike at the Congress Hotel has ended, and hotel officials said they were just as surprised as anyone to hear the news.
The union representing the hotel workers — Unite Here Local 1 — notified the hotel Wednesday afternoon its workers would officially end the strike at midnight.
The standoff between workers and management at the hotel began in June 2003, and union officials claim it was the longest strike in American history.
In 2003, 130 Congress workers — all members of United Here Local 1 — went on strike after the hotel reduced their wages, froze its contribution to their health insurance and announced it would begin subcontracting work to minimum-wage workers, the union said in a statement.
For the last decade, the picketing strikers have been a regular sight outside the hotel, and hotel officials said strikers were picketing as recently as this week.
Peter Andjelkovich, the attorney and chief negotiator for the hotel throughout the strike, said the union made an "unconditional offer" on behalf of its members to return to work and gave the hotel a list of the 130 workers who walked off the job in 2003.
Andjelkovich said the hotel was looking at the offer "cautiously," and said he was stumped over exactly why the decade-long strike "just cleared up overnight."
"We seriously have no idea," Andjelkovich said at a news conference Thursday morning. "We had no indication this was coming. We had not made any concessions. Nothing has happened to make us feel that this was coming."
Andjelkovich said the two sides had not met at the bargaining table for about a year.
Henry Tamarin, the president of the union representing the workers, said in a statement the decision to end the strike was "a hard one" but said it was time "for the Union and the strikers to move on."
"The boycott has effectively dramatically reduced the hotel’s business. The hotel treats their workers and customers equally poor and the community knows it. There is no more to do there," Tamarin said. "We don’t see getting a contract here, and we have many more battles to fight for economic justice."
Andjelkovich said it was still too early to say how many workers, if any, would return to work at the Congress. He said 30 to 40 union workers crossed the picket line during the strike, and the hotel asked the union to clarify how many of the 130 workers on its list would seek employment at the hotel.
The group striking included housekeepers and restaurant workers, Andjelkovich said. He said the hotel employed about 300 workers on average.
Returning workers such as housekeepers would make $8.83 per hour, the same amount they made in 2002, Andjelkovich and union officials said. The union claimed in its statement the "citywide standard" for that position was now $16.40 per hour. Andjelkovich claimed that figure was probably inflated.