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Hundreds of protesters landed outside the Hyatt McCormick Place just as the National Restaurant Association Show, one of the nation’s largest hospitality industry trade shows, was letting out for its third day at McCormick Place.
The timing was a coincidence, organizers said.
Riding a scooter with an orange windsock and white inflatable No. 1 hand symbol, Buddy Broniar, a vice president of UniteHere Local 1, the union representing Hyatt employees, joined his chanting comrades.
“Hyatt is mean spirited,” said Broniar, 72.
“Cheap and mean,” the demonstrators chanted. The union has been working without a contract for four years.
Most were on hand to protest the nomination of billionaire businesswoman Penny Pritzker to the Commerce Department in a continuing effort to call attention to a long-standing contract dispute.
Pritzker, whose family founded the Hyatt Hotel chain, has been on its board since 2004. She was nominated to lead the Commerce Department by President Barack Obama this month. Her Senate confirmation hearing is Thursday.
Hyatt and UniteHere have been embroiled in a bitter dispute over wages and benefits. Workers’ wages have remained stagnant as the two sides have failed to reach a deal.
Local 1 member George Means, 54, of Austin sported a rhinestone-studded black and gray Obama for President T-shirt. But he has no problem with the president’s pick. He simply wanted to show solidarity with the local in exchange for backing his cause for raises at Gate Gourmet in Schiller Park, where he is a liquor handler.
“I’m just here for Local 1. I just want to support the union,” Means said. “We’re all one.”
Lou Weeks, executive vice president of UniteHere Local 1, on Monday morning reiterated the union’s months-long request that the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, push Hyatt to provide the hotel’s workers with retroactive raises, which have been stalled due to the contract negotiation impasse.
“We’re quite frustrated with this body,” Weeks said. “For several months we’ve been respectfully asking that you to do the right thing.”
Jack Greenberg, the authority’s board chairman, said the agency has had conversations with Hyatt to push for a resolution and will continue to talk with the company.
The authority, which also operates McCormick Place and Navy Pier, “cares deeply for our employees,” he said. “We want them to be treated fairly and to be paid fairly,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Hyatt said its board members have been targeted by UniteHere while also accusing the union of spreading misinformation about hotel working conditions.
“We’ve offered the same wage and benefits terms that the union accepted at other hotels in Chicago,” Hyatt said. “It’s a shame UniteHere leaders are sacrificing the needs of those they represent in order to build their membership.”