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Chicago Ordinance Would Bring Laid-Off Workers Back When Hotels Reopen

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In 2020, the Chicago area saw an employment drop of more than 30%. Thousands of the city's hospitality workers were laid off. (Unite Here Local 1)
In 2020, the Chicago area saw an employment drop of more than 30%. Thousands of the city's hospitality workers were laid off. (Unite Here Local 1)
February 19, 2021

CHICAGO - Legislation pending before the Chicago City Council would require hotels to reinstate workers who were laid off because of the pandemic to their former positions, before hiring outside replacements.

Thousands of hospitality workers have lost their jobs in Chicago, and more across the country - which means lost income, health insurance and other benefits.

Melisa Magaña, a former room attendant at Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago, said when she got the call that she was out of a job, her son was in the middle of a dental procedure, but no longer had dental insurance.

"I shouldn't be struggling to look for a job when I already had one," said Magaña. "I didn't lose it because of my fault. I lost it because of a pandemic, you know. Like everybody else, like thousands of people, just in my same situation."

Magaña's a member of Unite Here Local 1, which represents more than 7,000 employees of downtown Chicago hotels, mostly women of color and immigrants. Opponents of the ordinance say it would be a logistical challenge for hotels that are also struggling.

Magaña, who is 40, said she worked at the Hyatt for four years. But she noted some of her colleagues who also were laid off are 10 to 20 years older, and had worked at the hotel for two decades or more.

"We were always there for these companies, you know," said Magaña. "Weekends, holidays, birthdays. I missed my son's birthdays, I missed soccer finals, you know, I would cry at work. Like, I have no choice - I'm a single mom, I can't just call off and go home and risk my job."

She said finding another job during the pandemic has proven to be extremely difficult. She said she's hopeful the City Council will pass the ordinance in support of the thousands of hospitality workers who lost their financial stability when hotels closed or cut back.

Lily Bohlke, Public News Service - IL