Former hotel workers sue Swissotel Chicago, accusing it of violating “Right to Return to Work” ordinance


Maria Ruiz served as a banquet waitress at Swissotel Chicago for almost 24 years, putting work ahead of family, sometimes sleeping in a hotel room for just a few hours between shifts when there wasn’t enough time to get home.

“I was at the hotel for 36 straight hours,†Ruiz said Tuesday afternoon at a press conference outside the hotel. “I couldn’t kiss my babies goodnight or give them a hug in the morning. My brother was killed two years ago and it was so hard – but even then, I didn’t miss a day or job. “

Ruiz, 51, was among hundreds of hotel workers who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainty of their future was frightening, but Chicago City Council sought to alleviate that anxiety by passing the “Right to Return to Work” ordinance to ensure hotel workers could return to their jobs. instead of being replaced.

But a complaint filed Tuesday accuses Swissotel of violating that order by failing to rehire Ruiz and two other banquet servers, each of whom had worked at the hospital for at least 20 years.

“I have dedicated my life to this job, to this hotel. I was so proud to work there, â€said Ruiz. “Since I was fired last year, my life has been like a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from.”

Unable to find a new job or pay off her mortgage, Ruiz said she was on the verge of losing her home. The situation is just as dire for the other plaintiffs in the trial, Marie Lourdie Pierre-Jacques and Maria Teresa Hernandez.

The order was pushed by union leaders and sacked hotel workers. He called on Chicago hotels to prioritize seniority when deciding which former employees to rehire. Women involved in the lawsuit argued for the order, speaking publicly in favor of it.

This original version, however, was fought by the hospitality industry as a logistical nightmare that would slow the pace of rehires. It made no sense, they said, to rehire someone based solely on seniority if that meant having to hire a dishwasher to do accounting work.

Finally, a compromise version was adopted by the Council. He reduced the scope, demanding that seniority be taken into account, but only in the same job categories.

But in their lawsuit, the women claim that Swissotel offered positions to banquet servers with less seniority than the three women.

Dismissed Swissotel employees Maria Teresa Hernandez, Maria Ruiz and Maria Lourdie Pierre-Jacques leave Swissotel, 323 E. Wacker Dr., with their lawyer, Stephen Yokich, on Tuesday after handing over a copy of the lawsuit they have filed against the hotel.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

Swissotel did not respond to a request for comment, but in a letter sent to the women’s lawyer in August, he argued that the order did not apply to the three women because they had been “fired. “, Not” dismissed “- an important distinction, argued the hotel’s lawyers in the letter.

Stephen Yokich, a women’s lawyer, said they anticipated this problem when they lobbied for the bill, but even so, “the city’s most responsible hotels are following the law,” he said. -he declares.

“Swissotel ignored the women who helped pass the law in the first place,†Yokich said. “Our message to the court will be the same as the one we have today: Swissotel must respect the law.”

Pierre-Jacques stood behind her colleagues at Tuesday’s press conference, often bursting into tears as she recalled working out during her pregnancy. Her colleagues often joked that she was going to give birth at a hotel because of the long hours she worked.

When she gave birth to her son, she returned to work in just six weeks. She would drop the baby off at her sister’s on the way back to the downtown hotel.

“I left him with my sister and for a long time he thought my sister was his mother. It broke my heart every time he called her ‘Mom’. Said Pierre-Jacques in tears. “No one can understand this feeling unless you have experienced it. I sacrificed this time with my son because I thought I was a good worker. I thought if I worked and gave myself to fundamentally, my work would respect me in return.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter joined the women and their supporters outside the hotel to show his support in the lawsuit which calls for the reinstatement of the women and their reimbursement of wages effective of the date on which they “should have been reinstated. “

“We believe that as customers return to Chicago and hotels increase their workforce, hotels should remind workers who have dedicated their lives to Chicago’s tourism industry,†Reiter said. “These women were fired by the Swissotel Chicago during the pandemic, they were also on the front lines defending the rights of Chicago hotel workers. … We are here to support these workers who seek to have their rights respected.

The Federation of Labor has a stake in Sun-Times Media.

Maria Lourdie Pierre-Jacques, a fired Swissotel employee, becomes emotional as she speaks at a press conference outside Swissotel in the Near East Side area on Tuesday afternoon, October 26, 2021.

Laid-off Swissotel employee Maria Lourdie Pierre-Jacques becomes emotional as she speaks at a press conference outside Swissotel, 323 E. Wacker Dr.
Pat Nabong / Sun-Times

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