A hotel worker union is suing the city of Chicago, claiming it improperly wielded a noise ordinance to hamper their rights while striking.
However, a federal judge has denied the union’s request for a temporary restraining order against the city in the dispute.
Unite Here Local 1 filed a complaint Oct. 22 in federal court in Chicago, naming as defendants the city, the Chicago Police Department and Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Commander Daniel O’Shea 18th District Capt. Melvin Roman and two other officers, Lt. Hoover and Sgt. McDonald.
According to the union, the defendants barred union members and supporters “from making any sound” while picketing their employer, Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile, 166 E. Superior St., “even during the height of rush hour.” They say police are doing so by enforcing the city code’s interference and unnecessary noise ordinances, threatening arrests “in an ad hoc and unconstitutional manner.”
The union, which represents 15,000 workers in the Chicago area, said the way the city applies each ordinance’s sound production restriction “is unconstitutionally vague and unconstitutionally burdens substantially more speech than is necessary to further any legitimate city interest.” It further said the city didn’t intervene until after a month of loud picketing — “with bullhorns, whistles, loud chanting, drums and other instruments” — despite giving express permission the entire time.
Collective bargaining sessions between the union and hotel started Oct. 9 with another session set for noon Tuesday, Oct. 23. Members say they must be allowed to exercise their full rights as picketers to draw attention to the dispute and bring pressure to bear on the hotel by disturbing guests and others in the area.
Union members named as plaintiffs include President Karen Kent, Organizing Director Vinay Ravi, organizer Vicky Scheerer and Cambria employee Manual Sahakian. Though the strike at 26 hotels started in early September, Cambria workers were the last to strike on Sept. 10, and are the only workers still on strike as of Oct. 10, the complaint said.
In contextualizing the noise, the union said its picket line is 100 feet from the Lurie Children’s Hospital loading dock as well as near temporary truck parking servicing Northwestern Memorial Hospital buildings and also a pizza restaurant, a mall and a park and plaza that has staged concerts.
Local 1 said it met with the police defendants a week before the strike to discuss what conduct would be appropriate, which is when it learned amplified sound devices would be allowed between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. It also said it remained in communication throughout the month and abided by police guidelines, but on Oct. 17 received notice to discuss a complaint from Lurie — a complaint the union said traced back to the hotel general manager, who carried “a stack of flyers around and into the hospital” on Oct. 13.
The Lurie complaint led to an Oct. 18 phone meeting at which police allegedly threatened to arrest any Cambria picketer making any sound resulting in a complaint from the hospital.
The union said the threat constitutes a violation of workers’ First Amendment rights because police are targeting the workers’ message while permitting several other similarly loud activities in the same area. It further asserted both the unnecessary noise and interference ordinances are unconstitutionally vague because they provide no objective standard for what is unnecessary of what might interfere with the hospital’s functions.
The complaint also alleges the police limits on sound “imposes an effective ban on picketing that is constitutionally protected under the National Labor Relations Act.”
The union wants the court to bar police from arresting anyone for making noise while picketing on sidewalks outside the Cambria as well as declaratory relief and legal fees.
In an order issued Oct. 23, U.S. District Judge Harry D. Leinenweber rejected the union’s request for an order immediately barring the city from enforcing its ordinance. The case remains pending.
Representing the union in the matter are lawyers from Asher, Gittler & D’Alba, of Chicago.
Jonathan Bilyk contributed to this report.