Monday, July 16, 2007

Obama expected to walk Congress Hotel picket line today

Okay kids, this one is local. And I'm not parroting Fox News talking points.

I worked at the Congress Hotel for nine years as either a catering or convention services manager. I worked with a lot of interesting groups, including International Mr. Leather, the annual meeting of the leftist rag In These Times, a swingers group, a street gang summit, and some Wiccans.

My time there helps explain why I'm so loosely wired.

Four years ago, the unionized workers there went on strike. My opinion on organized labor is mostly negative--many unions tend to be corrupt dens of nepotism.

However, in this battle, I'm on the side of the union. The dishwashers, bartenders, room attendants, and waiters walking the picket line were not well paid. Their union, Hotel Employees-Restaurant Employees Local #1 was recently cleaned up by the federal government, negotiated a major pay increase for their members with the bargaining unit hired by the big Chicago hotels. All signed on, except the Congress.

The owners are crying they can't afford the pay raise, but don't believe them. The core of the partnership, led by New Yorker Albert Nasser, has been in control of the Congress since 1987. Despite a 1995 bankruptcy declaration, they've obviously found owning the Congress worthwhile. Besides, they could always sell the hotel. The land the hotel sits on--the corner of Congress and Michigan Avenue overlooking Buckingham Fountain--is undoubtedly worth a fortune.

Or the owners could fix up the place and stop maintaining a dump. Renovated and run properly, the place would be a gold mine.

Click here from more on the owners of the Congress Hotel, including their man on-the-site, Shlomo Nahmias.

Sometime today, Senator Barack Obama will walk the hotel picket line with his striking constituents. Just as I support the union in this struggle, I'm with Obama today.

I'll end this post with a little story. I rented out the the hotel's Buckingham Room to an education society once. Two years later, I booked them again--I'd like to think it was because of me they returned. Anyway, when the group's president walked in the room for the second meeting, she pointed out a cracked window, and said, "Look that window is cracked, just as it was two years ago!"

That's the Congress Hotel.

To comment on this post, or to congratulate me on the fact that I live in one of America's "Ten Best Towns for Families," click here.

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