The workers strike at Hilton Palmer House hotel has caught two non-union-affiliated restaurants in the crossfire. The owner of Sugar Bliss Patisserie said sales at her bakery, which shares an entrance with the Palmer House, have sagged 50 percent since the strike started 17 days ago. She’s cut store hours and staff hours as union picketers armed with drums and boomboxes drive business away. There’s also a Freshii in the same building.
Housekeepers, doormen, and cooks were among workers from 25 hotels represented by UNITE HERE Local 1. Their contracts expired on August 31 and they started to strike on September 7. Negotiations are ongoing. Some hotels, including Marriott properties, have already negotiated new deals. Some union members protesting at the Palmer House think Sugar Bliss employs scabs. That’s not the case, said bakery owner Teresa Ging. They’re independent from Hilton and the chain’s not even the bakery’s landlord. Thor Equities owns the building at Wabash and Monroe.
As sales suffered, Ging wanted a way to explain to customers they’re not taking sides during this labor strife. She put up two signs, one on the door that goes into the hotel:
“Sugar Bliss is not affiliated with the Palmer House Hilton, we are an independent woman owned store.”
If union members who block the entrance to her non-affiliated bakery want to grab a coffee and a macaroon, they should: “We are just trying to survive during the strike,” Ging said.
Instead of staying out of the fracas, the signs earned Ging the wrath of Hilton’s management. Hilton Area GM Dean Lane sent an email on Friday admonishing Ging, asking her to take down the signs and calling them “unprofessional” and “horrid.” Lane’s email left her stunned. Here’s a portion of Lane’s email provided by Ging:
“We have been negotiating in good faith and continue today. I have provided you updates and by phone call. I find it ironic that you place that sign where our guests have access from inside our building. My request is that you place that horrid sign which I must add is incredibly unprofessional to the outside door.”
Hilton has retained a staffing firm to operate the hotel while employees strike and often times hotel guests are walking into the bakery and asking Ging’s staff for directions and restaurant recommendations, which are the types of questions they’d ask a concierge. That makes the criticisms from Hilton’s GM even more puzzling, Ging said.
Lane, on the phone on Monday afternoon, offered up this explanation for his note to Ging: He didn’t like the shabby production quality. “It was just a Xerox copy with Scotch tape on the glass,” he said.
It wasn’t the content of the sign, Lane maintained. Lane said he would have been OK if Ging had the sign professionally printed. He did acknowledge that frustrations have risen during the strike. He intends to meet with Ging on Tuesday for a face-to-face conversation. He’s optimistic a labor agreement could be reached this week.
Ging doesn’t buy Lane’s explanation. She’s also keeping the sign up.
“He just got caught writing something he should not have written in an email,” Ging wrote via email. “What would a print shop do differently with this sign? It isn’t a creative marketing sign.”
A message to the union wasn’t immediately returned.