Chicago Hotel Strike: What Can Meeting Planners Do?

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Chicago hotel strike, meetings
The Chicago hotel strike continued over the weekend.

The Chicago hotel strike saw thousands of hotel employees represented by Unite Here Local 1 picketing at downtown hotels over the weekend.

Many of the almost 30 properties affected by the Chicago hotel strike are major chain hotels that rely heavily on meetings business. The first picket line was at the Palmer House Hilton on Friday, though Hilton Hotels & Resorts told the Chicago Sun Times that the strike is having no effect on service at its properties. The Chicago Tribune reported that executives at the Sheraton Grand Chicago have stepped in to cover duties usually handled by the striking workers. Other hotels are relying on temporary workers. In a formal statement, Hyatt Hotels Corporation said it is “pursuing contingency plans to minimize the impact of job actions on the guest experience” at its Chicago properties.

Candace Tran, account executive at Choose Chicago, also assured meeting planners that service will not not be affected by the walkouts. “Our hotels stand ready to provide the same high-quality service you’ve come to expect from them for your upcoming event.”

However, with the International Manufacturing Technology Show bringing 114,000 people into town this week, there have been reports of lengthy waits for check-in, uncleaned rooms and poorly trained restaurant personnel, according to the Chicago Tribune. The newspaper reported a number of restaurants that have been forced to close, including Torali Italian-Steak at the Ritz-Carlton and Stetsons Modern Steak & Sushi at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.

If a meeting planner with an upcoming event is looking to cancel, what he or she can do depends on the contract. “Some planners have general strike language built into their force majeure clause. But this only enables them to terminate their contract without liability if, in fact, the strike makes it ‘illegal, impossible, or impracticable’ for them to hold or for the hotel to host their meetings,” says Tyra Hilliard, Esq, PhD, CMP, an industry lawyer and frequent speaker at Prevue’s Visionary Summits. “In the case of Chicago, planners have received assurances that the hotels are prepared to service meetings with a combination of replacement workers and management, so that probably wouldn’t apply.” This means the next-best course of action is to postpone the meeting and try to negotiate new dates to avoid cancellation fees.

It is possible to build a specific strike clause into a contract. This is common practice with pro-labor groups or those that, for political reasons, do not want to meet at hotels or destinations where employees—or specific groups of people—could treated unfairly. In this case, says Hilliard, the language of the strike clause governs.  “A well-written one will allow the group to either terminate the meeting without liability if workers are striking over their dates or, even better, will allow termination some days or weeks in advance to allow them time to relocate. If relocation is not feasible, such a clause might call for remedies other than relocation or for some kind of damages or discounts in the event of substandard service.”

Unite Here Local 1 represents close to 16,000 employees, including housekeepers, doormen and cooks. Union members seek better wages and healthcare benefits and have been working without a contract since the end of August. Striking workers have pledged to picket around the clock until an agreement is reached.

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Barbara Scofidio is Editor of Prevue and heads up the Visionary Summits, our exclusive conference series targeting senior-level meeting and incentive planners. In her 30 years in the industry, she has become known for her passion around greening meetings, growing awareness of human trafficking and promoting CSR activities as part of business events. She is currently a member of SITE's Women IN Leadership committee and the media liaison for FICP's Education Committee. She was the first member of the media ever to be invited to sit on a committee by GBTA, where she spent three years on the Groups and Meetings Committee. She has also been an active member of SITE for 30 years, chairing its Crystal Awards committee and acting as a judge. Before joining Prevue in 2014, she served as Editor of Corporate Meetings & Incentives (MeetingsNet) for more than 20 years. She has a BA in Literature/Rhetoric from Binghamton University. Barbara is based outside Boston, in Groton, Mass.