Talk about retaliation: Ritzy Chicago club fires its housekeepers
The club has a spacious gym floor used by its wealthy patrons. | Midtown Athletic Club

CHICAGO—In what looks like a textbook case of retaliation, which breaks U.S. labor law, Chicago’s ritzy Midtown Athletic Club, which now includes a fancy hotel, had planned to fire all its housekeepers on May Day, the international workers holiday.

But when they staged a one-day “Save Our Jobs” walkout, press conference and leafleting on April 1, Midtown arbitrarily canned every housekeeper on April 13, and outsourced their jobs.

The workers say that’s illegal retaliation for the walkout, for complaining about labor law-breaking, for questioning safety and health conditions, and for taking their cause to Chicago media.

Their next step is to ask the National Labor Relations Board’s Chicago regional office to go to court seeking labor law’s toughest move against a boss: A 10(j) federal court injunction ordering immediate return of workers to their jobs, with back pay and damages.

The firing set off an uproar on the Near Northwest Side. Club members in the deep-blue neighborhood bombarded Midtown with complaints.

“It’s a huge insult” to the workers, many of whom have toiled there for years, member Katherine Bissell Cordova, one of those who called, told Arise Chicago, the Northwest Side workers center that aids and campaigns for low-wage exploited workers in that gentrifying area.

Workers protested the firing was not only arbitrary but that Midtown wouldn’t even let them clean out personal possessions from their lockers, says Arise Chicago Communications Director Shelly Ruzicka. For housekeeper Cristina Perez, that could be life-threatening.

Perez told Ruzicka she kept needed medicines, including one to control her diabetes, which she had to take on a regular schedule, in her club locker. When she got the club’s e-mail firing her, Perez texted club Housekeeping Director Sara Means, seeking to be let back in to get her medicines.

Means said “no,” unless Perez signed a document saying she voluntarily resigned, the same demand the club made of all the other housekeepers. The tradeoff was to get paid through May Day. Signing it would deprive Perez and the others of jobless benefits. Perez refused.

What would happen if I ran out of medication? What was I supposed to do?” Perez told Ruzicka. “It made me feel like I was asking for a big favor or a gift for something so basic as accessing my own medicine. It was so disrespectful and made me feel trapped.”

Midtown may have another motive. One union may be one too many for the bosses. National Labor Relations Board records show that on March 23, the club’s mechanics and allied workers voted to unionize with Operating Engineers Local 399.

The club’s initial firing announcement followed a week later. The accelerated firing was two weeks after that, along with its announcement of the outsourcing.

“They just want cheap labor they can control,” says Arise Chicago organizer Jose Uribe.

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Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.