CHICAGO – “Is this a union town?” asked Tim Leahy, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL). “How strong is labor if places like Labor Nation supply scabs? This fight isn’t just a fight just for today, it’s also a fight for the future.”

Leahy was addressing 100 demonstrators picketing the Labor Nation day labor agency here Sept. 5. The company is supplying 40 scabs to replace striking workers at the Congress Hotel.

One hundred thirty hotel workers, members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 1, struck June 15 after the hotel cut wages by 7 percent and eliminated family health insurance. The hotel’s action went against the prevailing agreement between the union and the city’s largest hotels.

The demonstrators, representing striking workers, the CFL, Jobs with Justice, Coalition for the Homeless, Workers’ Rights Board and ACORN were delivering a letter signed by labor and community leaders to Labor Nation, demanding that they cease strikebreaking activities. But the company locked the door.

“You can count on me,” declared Sharon Williams, a Congress Hotel striker. Williams was referring to the slogan of Labor Nation – “Count on us.” She continued, “If they don’t stop sending in scabs, we will be back out here.”

“Is this what day labor agencies are all about?” asked Leahy. “To supply scabs is a disgrace.”

John Donahue, director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, said low wages are fueling homelessness. “Seventy-five percent of those in shelters are working but can’t pay rent,” he said. The hotel’s cut in wages could force workers into homelessness, he said.

Jamie Owen Daniel of the Workers’ Rights Board said that if Labor Nation does not respond, the next step will be to begin contacting its clients.

In a separate statement, state Sen. Miguel del Valle said Labor Nation may be violating the law by not informing its workers that they are being sent into a strike situation.

Solidarity with the strike has been stepped up in recent weeks. In addition to the daily picket line, over 20 strikers and supporters were arrested on Labor Day for blocking traffic on Michigan Avenue.

The author can be reached at jbachtell@rednet.org

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