Friday, January 20, 2006

Congress Hotel strikers could be replaced by temps, federal court rules

Congress Hotel strikers could be replaced by temps, federal court rules
Medill News Service

For five days a week for more than two years, Chicago resident Sylvia Diaz has been walking the picket line in front of the Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue instead of going inside to work. Before that, she worked in the kitchen of the hotel and convention center for nine years. Diaz was earning $5.68 per hour with benefits when her union voted to strike back in June 2003 after hotel management offered a contract that included a 7 percent pay cut and no provisions for increases in benefits, but in the wake of a Jan. 10 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Diaz’s old job could be snapped up by a temp worker. The court ruled that the Illinois Employment of Strikebreakers Act violates federal labor law. Since an amendment to that act in 2003, Illinois employers had been prevented from hiring workers through a temporary agency to replace workers on strike.

The Strikebreakers Act "is so starkly incompatible with federal labor law that we do not understand how a responsible state legislature could pass, a responsible governor could sign, or responsible state official contemplate enforcing such legislation," wrote Judge Frank Easterbrook in a searing opinion for the three-judge panel.

"Just as workers are free to withhold their labor, so employers are free to hire either temporary or permanent replacements," Easterbrook wrote. The appeals court sent the suit back to the district court, where the lawsuit had been dismissed by Judge Robert Gettleman.

For Diaz, the news means that the ongoing strike will immediately lose much of its power.

"This is very bad for us," Diaz says. "If they have somebody to work inside, they don’t care if we’re outside; they don’t care if we’re going back or not."


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