Chicago’s Proposed Right to Know Act Draws Mixed Reviews

SANDI CAIN, NEWS EDITOR
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Chicago – Proposed legislation by the city of Chicago that would require hotels to inform customers about strikes and lockouts generated mixed reaction from those in the hospitality and trade show industries. Proponents believe the law would help inform and protect show organizers and visitors  to Chicago, while opponents believe it might drive business out of the city and strengthen the hand of the hotel workers union  as it prepares for citywide contract negotiations next year.

The proposed legislation, called the Right to Know Act, would also require any hotel that is  subject to lawful picketing by a nationally recognized union for more than 15 days to notify all guests about the strike. Notices would need to be sent to anyone who made reservations prior to the work stoppage and all potential guests who call for reservations. In addition, hotels would be required to notify all third-party vendors about the strike and refrain from listing rooms with third-party vendors who do not publish the notice in their materials.

Clare Fauke, a spokesperson for UniteHere Local 1, which represents 14,000 hotel workers in Chicago, called the proposed bill “good for travelers, the industry and planners.” Fauke said the Congress Plaza Hotel and Conference Center, where members of the union are embroiled in a two-year-old strike, has not always notified customers about the strike, creating discomfort when guests arrive. No other Chicago hotels meet the legislation’s criteria at this time. “Under the legislation, there wouldn’t be any surprises,” she said. “Right now, people feel misled.”

The Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association, which represents 450 hotels statewide, disagrees. IHLA President & CEO Marc J. Gordon said, “This proposed ordinance written by the hotel union has nothing to do with consumer protection; rather it is the hotel union’s attempt to gain unfair advantage in next year’s collective bargaining negotiations.  This proposed ordinance also clearly violates the National Labor Relations Act and the equal protection provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”IHLA spokesperson Jill O’Neill said the association maintains that there is no basis for singling out the entire hotel industry based on the ongoing action at the Congress Plaza, which is not a member of IHLA.

“There are many hotels that do a wonderful job servicing guests,” she said, whether or not there is any strike action.  Meghan Risch, Director of Public Relations for the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, said the bureau opposes the legislation as unnecessary.

Some industry executives believe the concept of the legislation is good, but question possible consequences. “This may come under the category of something that sounds like a good idea but might have some negative unintended consequences,” said Steven Hacker, President of the International Association for  Exhibition  Management (IAEM). Hacker said hotels should reach out to customers when there’s a labor action, but expressed concern about legislating the policy. “It intrudes into the prerogative of hoteliers,” Hacker said, “and that’s a bad precedent.” But  Mike Fisher, Executive Director for the National Association of Consumer Shows, said the issues raised by the Right to Know proposal are important to the industry. “It’s really important that all parties know whether there’s a strike or protest, because everyone who comes to consumer shows has different beliefs,” he said. Fisher said a strike could hurt consumer show attendance and create negative impressions of the show that could carry over to future years. He said if that happens, everyone loses — consumers, show organizers and union workers. “You have to have compassion for all sides,” he said.

Fauke said the union doesn’t see any downside to the legislation. “We think it builds confidence in the destination and treats (clients) with respect,” she said. The IHLA, on the other hand, said the measure sends a negative message that contradicts the city’s efforts to promote tourism and unfairly discriminates against hoteliers. Joan Eisenstodt, Chief Strategist for event planners Eisenstodt & Associates in Washington, DC called the proposal short-sighted. “Conceptually, it’s fabulous,” she said, “but it implies people only care about (union activity) at hotels. The legislation  should include airlines and other unions in the city.”

Should the legislation be approved (it was tabled at press time, according to IHLA), it is unclear what the cost would be for hotels to comply.

Reach Clare Fauke, spokesperson, UniteHere Local 1 (312) 663-4373 or cfauke@herelocal1.org; Meghan Risch, Director of Public Relations for Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau, (312) 567-8540 or mrisch@choosechicago.com; Joan Eisenstodt, Chief Strategist, Eisenstodt & Associates, (202) 543-7971 or eisenstodt@aol.com; Steven Hacker, President, International Association for  Exhibition Management (972) 458-8002 or shacker@iaem.org; Mike Fisher, Executive Director, National Association of Consumer Shows (800) 728-6227; Marc Gordon, President &CEO, IHLA, (312) 346-3135 x223 or mgordon@illinoishotels.org; Jill O’Neill, Director of Communications, Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association (312) 346-3135 or joneill@illinoishotels.com