Epic Union Walkout a Total Failure

Ten years is a long time. For example, ten years ago Facebook did not exist. “Friends” was still in its 9th season. iTunes was only a 2 year-old toddler. A ten year-old in 2003, when the U.S. first invaded Iraq, is now old enough to fight in the war.

What if I told you that a union was on strike during this an entire decade? You would probably think that’s ridiculous, but hope it was worth it. So what if I told you that strikers went back to work after 10 years, having accomplished nothing? Believe it or not, this is a true story.

The Congress Plaza Hotel in Chicago experienced the longest strike in American history. The strike began on June 3, 2003 after UNITE-HERE Local 1 failed to convince the Congress to sign a contract that would secure gradual raises to workers’ hourly wages. Instead, the hotel asked for 7 percent wage cuts and requested that employees help contribute to their health care. After ten years of striking, on May 30, 2013 the union finally admitted defeat.

The hotel owner, Albert Nasser, stood up against the union’s damaging and costly actions for an entire decade. Tax documents reportedly show that the hotel was bleeding dry for years, but Nasser refused to give in to union bullying tactics. He replaced striking workers with sub-contracted workers, but over the years, about 40 or so picketers eventually returned to work. The remaining workers, many of whom found other jobs, were paid by the union about $200 a week to strike.

UNITE-HERE Local 1 President Henry Tamarin threw his hands up, signaling that the union had lost the battle. He stated:

It is the right time for the union and the strikers to move on…there is no more to do [at the Congress].

Even more humiliating for Tamarin, the strike was completely ineffective; workers did not win a single concession and some of the strikers will likely be returning to work for the Congress under the initial 2002 contract.

Though ineffective, the strike at least gave us the opportunity to observe a desperate union’s actions and see the great lengths it is willing to go to get what it wants. Over the years, Local 1 developed the reputation of being disruptive and confrontational, often taking extreme measures to intimidate the Congress into making concessions.

For example, aside from constantly picketing outside the hotel, union members would show up unannounced at conferences held in the Congress, demanding that the organizers relocate. When one organization refused to cancel its reservation to host a 5K “fun run” benefit, strikers jogged next to participants, shoving flyers in their hands and trying to talk to the participants as they ran. One man even pretended to lay a trip-line in order to confuse the joggers, causing them to stop.

A lawsuit filed by the Congress against Local 1 documents that when the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research planned to host an event at the hotel, the organization’s main offices received a “cow pie Valentine,” or a heart shaped box filled with cow manure, that was sent by the union. During another event, Local 1 raised a blimp that had a message demanding attendees to cut ties with the hotel.

The union took other extreme measures as well, such as sending members to Geneva, Switzerland in order to confront Nasser at his main residence or leading a delegation to the Philippines in order to meet with workers from Nasser’s other factories.

And yet nothing worked. Ten years later the strike has ended and nothing has come of it. The lesson is that unions are willing to pay people to remain idle for an entire decade, follow and harass others across the world, expose people to harmful substances, and otherwise “waste” time.