City working with striking union to reduce noise outside Cambria hotel
Loop North News

STREETERVILLE 166 E Superior St - MAP

(Above) Frame from security video at Cambria showing protesters – one with a megaphone – in front of the hotel early Saturday morning. In the video, constant drumming can be heard along with chanting amplified by the megaphone. (Click on image to view larger version.)

After nine months, patience with striking hotel workers, making noise that includes drumming and sirens, is thin. Says the children’s hospital next door, ‘Talk isn’t doing it. We’re ready to take action.’

14-Jun-19 – The group of strikers walking in circles in front of Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile may be small in size but, echoing in the concrete canyons of Streeterville, the noise they have been making, including drums and sirens, every day for nine months, appears to have eroded any support they may have had from neighbors of the hotel.

According to Alderman Brian Hopkins, whose 2nd Ward includes the hotel and neighboring residential buildings, a federal judge says the city has “a very strong case” in its opposition to the noise the strikers are making, but has asked the city to “come to some agreement” with Unite Here Local 1 about how much noise the strikers may make and which hours in the day they may make it.

Sometimes starting as early as 7:15 a.m. and at least one time, going all night, neighbors report loud chanting, whistles, megaphones, drums, pots and pans, and other noisemakers seven days a week.

One neighbor, who was concerned about retaliation from the strikers and did not want to be identified, said the noise “is nothing short of domestic terrorism and continues to get worse every single day.”

Whether or not the strikers are breaking the law is not clear.

Brian Hopkins

“They’re violating the noise control ordinance and they’re violating nuisance ordinances as well,” said Hopkins (left) on Friday. “There is language in the noise control ordinance that seems to provide for an exception for protests and permitted events, so it’s not quite as clear as we would like it to be, whether or not they are in fact entitled by this exception to continue their noisemaking activity.”

The goal is a compromise that would allow the union to continue picketing and make, says Hopkins, “a little noise but...not so much noise that...it causes a real problem for everyone in the neighborhood.”

Agreements between city and union have been reached in past

A week after their contracts with the hotels expired, members of Unite Here Local 1 started their strike on September 7, 2018, at 25 Chicago hotels and expanded to 26 hotels on September 11. The union was demanding year-round health insurance for employees laid off during slower winter months. There were settlements in the strike and by October 11, they were down to one hotel, Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile, located next to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital on East Superior Street in Streeterville.

After hundreds of complaints to the city about the noise strikers were making, an agreement was reached on September 12, 2018, between attorneys for Unite Here Local 1 and attorneys for Chicago Police Department, in which the city agreed not to cite or arrest strikers for noise between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. if noisemaking devices were not used between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

The truce between strikers and police had to be re-examined on October 17, when staff at Lurie Children’s Hospital asked police to enforce an ordinance prohibiting noise in Quiet Zones located specifically near hospitals.

(Right) Front side of Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile on East Superior Street, showing proximity to Lurie Children’s Hospital (at right in photo).

Photo by Steven Dahlman

City attorneys offered to work with the union to identify areas where protests could be relocated to, outside of the hospital’s Quiet Zone, but Local 1, according to Dana Pesha-O’Malley, assistant general counsel to Chicago Police Department, “refused to discuss any solution that involved relocating out of the Quiet Zone.”

In its lawsuit against the city, filed on October 22, Unite Here Local 1 insisted that its use of megaphones, drums, and other noise-producing devices is “peaceful picketing” and ordinances that prohibit them from making noise violate their First Amendment rights.

The lawsuit was settled on December 17, when the city and the union agreed to abide by the original agreement. Strikers would not be cited or arrested for using amplified sound devices between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. if they did not use such devices between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

The settlement further clarified that no one would be cited or arrested for generating any sound “solely with the unamplified human voice.” And if police are ever thinking about arresting a striker, attorneys for the city must contact attorneys for the union and give the striker “a reasonable opportunity” to cease and desist before any enforcement action.

Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile

Hopkins expressed skepticism that the union would adhere to any new agreement.

(Left) Strikers in front of Cambria at night.

“In their defense I would say that they took their foot off the gas a little bit but not enough and not as much as we asked them to do – and expected them to do – and as time goes by, they start to get noisier and noisier.”

In recent weeks, strikers have gotten louder and are making noise earlier and later in the day, according to neighbors of the hotel. Hopkins believes it’s because attention the union once spread across 26 hotels is now focused on Cambria.

He says Lurie Children’s Hospital, after complaining for months that the protests interfered with its bereavement rooms, where parents of terminally ill children receive devastating news, finally ran out of patience and has told Hopkins, “Talk isn’t doing it. We’re ready to take action.”

Union blames hotel for noise, say neighbors

According to Hopkins and neighbors of the hotel, the union does not take responsibility for the effect the noise is having on nearby residents.

“They are absolving themselves of any responsibility in this,” says Hopkins. “They try to put the burden on hotel management, [that] the hotel is the only one with the power to stop the noise, which is unfair and disingenuous.”

Hopkins says the city supports the union’s right to strike. “But we think they can continue to have their picket line absent sirens and drums. That doesn’t seem to be too much to ask.”

At 100 East Huron Street, a 204-unit condominium located about one block east of the hotel, the strike has become “a terrible nuisance” for residents, according to property manager Mitchell Kesler.

“We are fielding daily complaints and at least one of our residents is calling the police on a daily basis. We have reached out to the former and new mayor, the alderman of both the 42nd and 2nd wards, two local neighborhood associations, and the response is always the same, ‘call the police.’”

Calls to the police sometime stop the noise for a half-hour or so but more often do no good at all, he says.

“The banging and yelling reverberate and can be heard at the uppermost point of our building. Windows cannot be opened, and no quiet is to be had during the hours this is going on.”

One neighbor found some solace while walking his dog near the Cambria.

(Right) Photo from the MLS of 100 East Huron Street.

Redfin

“She had finished her ‘business’ and as I was walking by the drum, I noticed that no one was looking so I deposited a little present, in a plastic bag, on their drum.”

Hotel says it has given union its final offer

Ian Heffron, general manager of the Cambria, says noise made by the protesters has exceeded 100 decibels, which can be produced by motorcycles and jackhammers. In May, his hotel sent a memo to 100 East Huron Street, updating residents on the strike.

According to the memo, during six negotiating sessions with the union over several months, numerous proposals were exchanged and the hotel agreed to nearly every demand, such as wage increases, benefits, immigration protections, and severance arrangements.

The disagreement, reads the memo, has been over the workload of housekeeping personnel. The union wants a smaller daily workload. The hotel says that would increase its operating costs and make it less efficient and less profitable than comparable hotels.

“This issue is of utmost importance to the hotel, and the hotel does not anticipate that the hotel’s position on this point will change.”

The union has not made any counterproposals, according to the memo, and the hotel has given the union “its last, best offer.”

A spokesperson for Unite Here Local 1 did not respond to a request for comment.

 Previous story: Settlement allows striking hotel workers to protest loudly outside children’s hospital

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

Published 14-Jun-19 5:15 PM

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