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Workers Picket Outside Palmer House Hilton

Palmer House Strike

Workers strike and sing at the Palmer House Hilton. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 12/16/10 11:19 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS/WBBM) - An all-day strike is underway against the Palmer House Hilton hotel downtown.

As CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli reports, the strike at the hotel, at 17 E. Monroe St., started before dawn and will be in progress until well after the sun goes down.

Hundreds of workers sang Christmas carols with alternate words tailored to their cause, as they walked the picket line. They occasionally had to fight the CTA elevated trains to be heard.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser Reports

The workers are on a one-day strike by members of UNITE HERE Local 1, but news of the labor unrest has prompted one big convention involving 5,000 people to cancel a summer convention at the hotel.

The union is also leading walkouts in Honolulu and San Francisco.

“We demand respect and we demand to be able to keep our jobs, secure our jobs and, while we have them, be able to feed our families,” said Rashanda Williams, a bartender at the Palmer House for 10 years.

The employees believe their working conditions have worsened to the point of being dangerous. They say they are being forced to do more work with fewer employees.

They want employees who were laid off by the recession to be hired back. They also believe going without a contract for 15 months feels like a slap in the face.

“The bottom line is that staffing levels have never returned since the economy dipped last year, and the business is back,” one striking worker said. “The company got an $80 million taxpayer bailout, and the jobs aren’t back, and workers are frustrated.”

“We’ve given our souls to this job, and an unsigned contract tells us that, ‘You’re not appreciated,’” another striking worker said.

But in a statement, the hotel said the strike was benefiting nobody.

“Union tactics such as work stoppages and demonstrations will do nothing to bring us closer to a new contract,” the statement said. “They are harmful to employees, to hospitality industry and to the city of Chicago.”

The Palmer House Hilton, which is owned by the Wall Street buyout firm Blackstone, says the union is insisting on unreasonable wage increases during difficult economic conditions.

UNITE HERE Local 1 officials say they are just trying to get their relatively low-paid workers a fair deal, in contrast to the sweetheart deal they say the Blackstone got from taxpayers.

UNITE HERE Local 1 represents housekeepers, dishwashers, cooks and bell staff.

The strike is on until 8:30 p.m.