Union hotel workers are set to strike at 30 properties in downtown Chicago September 1, 2018, following the expiration of the UNITE HERE Local 1 contract.

Union members authorized a strike by a 97 percent vote August 16, 2018, and although spokespeople for the union are remaining tight-lipped leading up to the possible strike, its Twitter page has the appearance of an imminent labor action with hotel workers across the city signing up for strike benefits and picket shifts.

Additional strike information is also available at #ChicagoHotelStrike.

The strike would impact the following properties:

  • Ambassador Chicago
  • Cambria Magnificent Mile
  • Crowne Plaza Hotel Chicago-Metro
  • Doubletree Chicago Magnificent Mile
  • Drake Hotel
  • Fairmont Chicago
  • Hampton Inn / Homewood Suites Magnificent Mile
  • Hilton Chicago
  • Holiday Inn Mart Plaza
  • Hotel Blake
  • Hotel Raffaello
  • Hyatt Regency Chicago
  • Hyatt Regency McCormick Place
  • Inn of Chicago
  • JW Marriott
  • Kimpton Hotel Allegro
  • Kimpton Hotel Palomar
  • Kinzie Hotel
  • Millennium Knickerbocker
  • Palmer House
  • Park Hyatt Chicago
  • The Ritz-Carlton Chicago
  • Sheraton Grand Chicago
  • Tremont Chicago Hotel at Magnificent Mile
  • W Chicago City Center
  • W Chicago Lakeshore
  • Warwick Allerton
  • Westin Michigan Avenue
  • Westin River North
  • Wyndham Grand

What Meeting Planners Should Do to Prepare for a Strike

“It's too late for language now if you have a contract in place,” said Joan Eisenstodt, chief strategist for Eisenstodt Associates and frequent blogger and contributor for Meetings Today. “And it's also about informational picketing, which may happen even if they don't strike.”

“I'd suggest people follow UNITE HERE’s Twitter feed and page to keep updated, know their groups and if they will cross picket lines, know what hotels will do to continue service if the meeting goes forward, and what will happen if vendors won't cross even informational picket lines,” she continued.

“For example, garbage workers have been known to honor hotel picket lines," Eisenstodt added.

[Related Content: Marriott Union Workers Plan Labor Day Unrest]

Meetings industry attorney Tyra Hilliard noted a case that involved union member attendees who refused to cross a picket line, which resulted in a hefty cancellation charge from the property when the group decided to move its meeting.

"A fascinating older case on this issue was Organization of American Historians, whose attendees were mostly union members and said they wouldn't cross a picket line," Hilliard said. "The group thought that because they had strike language in the contract, they could claim force majeure, but the hotel said, 'Oh, I'm sure we'll have a contract signed by the time of your meeting and if we don't, you can claim force majeure then.' Well, obviously, the group needed time to move their meeting and they ended up arguing over a huge cancellation clause, which prompted future groups to say, 'If there is a strike x days/weeks/months out, we can terminate the contract without liability in order to have time to find an alternate facility."

If planners are to avoid hefty cancellation or attrition fees, negotiation experts say contracts need to address potential union activity just as they would a hurricane or anything else that could derail the meeting. Including labor dispute provisions in a hotel contract’s force majeure clause—a clause designed to indemnify organizations for cancellations due to extraordinary events— is an essential step.

Many organizations use language recommended by UNITE HERE, which posts a “Model Protective Language for Event Contracts” on its website.

But while some planners rely on force majeure clauses, some don’t believe they provide adequate protection. Instead, many recommend that planners include a termination/excuse of performance clause in their addendums to specifically protect their organizations from labor disputes, strikes, lockouts, boycotts and picketing in all hotel contracts to address labor disputes and other potentially liable situations.

[Related Content: Planners Share the Pros and Cons of Working With Unions]

A termination/excuse of performance clause is typically regarded much more broadly by courts as opposed to the language traditionally used in force majeure clauses.

Following are some items to consider in the wording of meeting and event hotel and facility contracts:

  • Incorporate a comprehensive phrase in the clause that references coverage for all possible emergencies, as well as non-emergencies, that can have a negative impact on the event.
  • Insert a clause stating that the facility will notify the group in writing within 10 days if it becomes aware of any labor disputes, an impending strike or lockout, or the expiration of a labor contract.
  • Include the remedy of locating the event to another facility without incurring liability if the organization holding the meeting determines that the labor unrest would negatively impact the value of the event at the original venue.
  • If the organization holding the meeting decides to proceed with the meeting, include in the contract language that the property will waive all attrition fees that are related to reduced attendance.
  • Also include in the contract language that says all deposits and pre-payments must be reimbursed promptly by the venue if the meeting or event needs to be canceled due to a labor dispute.

Additional information about the possible downtown Chicago hotel strike can be found at UNITE HERE Local 1's website that is dedicated to providing members and supporters with news updates and other resources.

Portions of this article were first published in March 2011, and were updated August 28, 2018.

Longtime Meetings Today freelance writer Maria Lenhart contributed to this report.