Shande on Michigan Ave.

I spent my afternoon yesterday with 1,000 other demonstrators in front of the Congress Park Hotel on Chicago’s Michigan Ave. – the site of the longest ongoing labor strike in the country. Marking the fifth anniversary of the strike, it was certainly the largest labor demonstration this city has seen in some time.

Some shameful stats: Congress housekeepers currently make $8.83 per hour and are not scheduled to get a raise until 2010. If a housekeeper was “lucky” enough to to work full-time at that wage, he or she would make less than the federal poverty level for a family of three. (By contrast, the standard union wage for a Chicago housekeeper is $13.90 an hour.) Workers also have no access to affordable health insurance benefits and there have been repeated complaints about unsafe and unsanitary working conditions.

It is with no small shame that I add that the Congress is Jewish-owned and operated. (It’s owner, Albert Nasser Shayo is a businessman who lives in Argentina; Shayo’s representative/manager is Shlomo Nahmias, who resides in the hotel with his family.) The Jewish-owned nature of the Congress is palpable and obvious as there are mezuzzot on every room inside the hotel.

I am proud to report, however, that the Jewish presence at the demonstration yesterday was also palpable and obvious. The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs joined the over 1,000 demonstrators who marched in a circle around the hotel over the course of the day. During the program, the crowd heard from a number of labor representatives, local politicians and hotel workers. A bunch of us rabbis also took the stage to pledge the Jewish community’s support of the strike, during which we repeatedly led the crowd in a chant of “What a Shande!” (This and “Si, Se Puerde!” were the two prominent foreign-language chants of the afternoon).

Though Congress workers have been walking the line at the hotel literally every day for the last five years there is, sadly, no end in sight. But as yesterday’s demonstration proved, this effort is mobilizing an increasingly diverse Chicago labor community.

And so the struggle continues. Check out yesterday’s Chicago Trib piece for more on the 5th anniversary doings…

4 thoughts on “Shande on Michigan Ave.

  1. David P

    Everyday you stay at a hotel, whether it’s a 4 star establishment or a 1 star run down motel, leave a $2.00 tip on the bed for the housekeeper. It really will make a difference to them!

  2. yaak

    Aderaba! The shande is that Jewish protesters are there!
    The hotel has corrected the violations, and people are still out to get him just because he doesn’t use union labor.
    Leave the hotel’s managers and owners alone.
    I know the manager personally and he’s nothing but respectible – more than I can say for those who protest over silliness like this.
    If this is their idea of Tikkun Olam, these protesters first need to be Metakein themselves.
    The previous commentor had a good idea – leave a $2.00 tip for the housekeeper if you feel for them.

  3. Lesley

    yaak, I would be interested in hearing how the hotel has corrected the violations, or in any way changed its treatment or payment of workers since the strike started.

    If nothing has, changed then how is supporting fair treatment of poor people “silliness”? And yes, leaving larger tips is indeed the right thing for _patrons_ to do, but it does not absolve the hotel owners of their responsibilities.

    Treating workers fairly is a profoundly Jewish value; there are many references in the Torah to fair treatment of laborers. _Of course_ our rabbis should be there to remind us of this.

  4. yaak

    Of course fair treatment of laborers is a Jewish value.
    What I’m saying is that THIS is not an example of unfair treatment.
    Every company has disgruntled employees. Did anyone conduct a survey of the current employees to see what percentage feel they’ve been treated unfairly?
    You and I know this is not about unfair treatment of employees – this is about not using union labor, so all the labor unions, which are very powerful, make a big stink about it – that’s why the whole thing is just silliness.


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