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The Chicago Traveler

Congress Hotel

by Matt B on March 10th, 2008

congress hotel

As much as I love Chicago and everything it has to offer, I can admit that it has its imperfections. The Congress Plaza Hotel is an architectural masterpiece. However, in recent years, it has become a blemish on the city's lakefront skyline.

Built in 1893, the Congress Hotel was completed in a time when horse-drawn carriages still traversed cobblestone streets. Back then it was called the Auditorium Annex as it was an addition to Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building across the street. Years later, beautiful banquet halls and ballrooms would be added to the structure, including the first ballroom in the country to use air-conditioning.

congress hotelIn 1908, with over 1,000 guestrooms, the hotel had an identity all its own, so the owners changed its name to the Congress Hotel, based on its location on Congress Street. Several U.S. Presidents'Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt'met here with their supporters to discuss their campaigns. At over 100 years old, the Congress Hotel truly is the home of several Chicago historical highlights.

Unfortunately, this once beautiful structure has fallen into disrepair and poor management. Its employees have been on strike for almost five years now. Most downtown Chicago hotels were part of a multi-employer association that negotiated a citywide contract with UNITE HERE Local 1, a union that represented nearly all downtown hotel service workers (e.g. housekeeping, kitchen, phone operators, etc). But the Congress pulled out of that association in the '90s, and the contract which protected the Congress employees expired at the end of 2002. The hotel offered the employees a new contract' which consisted of a 7% wage cut, no raises, a refusal to pay increases in health and welfare premiums, and the unlimited right to subcontract any job. Under this new contract, the Congress employees would be receiving 25% less in salary than other hotel employees in the area.

congress hotelThe workers felt this was a slap to their faces, and on June 15, 2003, they went out on strike with support from several labor organizations. Since then, union housekeepers in Chicago hotels have earned yet another raise, now making the Congress' offered contract 37% below the standard.

Read any customer review website and you will see reports of broken elevators, peeling paint, exposed wiring, insect problems, and rodent infestation. Of course, the hotel itself will not inform potential guests and customers about these problems. That's why I personally implore you NOT to patronize this business. It's not just about the condition of the rooms. It's about paying workers what they are worth.

congress hotelcongress hotel

For more information about the strike, its details, and its progress, visit http://www.congresshotelstrike.info/

Photo credit (via Flickr): dklimke, yuan2003, lobstar28

Congress Plaza Hotel: 520 S Michigan Ave; 312-427-3800

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