DePaul law school formal won't cross Congress Plaza Hotel picket line

  • By Fernando Diaz
  • Staff Writer
  • February 23, 2009 @ 4:47 PM

The DePaul College of Law is looking for a new venue for its annual ball after striking workers at the Congress Plaza Hotel convinced officials to move the event.

The Barrister's Ball, a formal for law students, was scheduled for April 4, but Glen Weissenberger, dean of the university's law school, says the student bar association president, Will Kellen, was in his office today and has been "hunting for another venue."

The student bar association chose to find another venue to avoid crossing the Congress Plaza Hotel picket line and demonstrate the school's continued support of its striking workers.

The student bar association coordinates the event and was in need of financial assistance, says Weissenberger. Kellen could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sales officials at the Congress Plaza Hotel say the school had not pulled out of the contract as of today. Weissenberger says the decision to pull out was made by the students and administration and will be turned over to internal legal counsel.

"In a bureaucracy as big as this one it takes time to do things," says Weissenberger.

Strikers from Local 1 of the union UNITE HERE recently appeared at the DePaul Labor Education Center, where local author Kim Bobo was reading from her recent book, "Wage Theft in America," to ask school officials to move the event.

Fernando Botello, a former laundry worker at the downtown hotel, says he and other workers were disappointed that DePaul might cross a picket line they have walked for more than five years, especially after support from other students at the school.

The workers have been campaigning across the city and lobbying others who might contract with the hotel to find another venue for their functions.

Annemarie Strassel, communications coordinator for Local 1, says the booking upset many of the strikers who later approached several university officials.     

DePaul's actions come on the heels of decisions by other organizations, including the International Housewares Association, to relocate their events, Strassel says.

 "We've had a lot of pretty big pulls," she says.

Workers are continuing to lobby local elected officials and companies with the goal of forcing the Congress Plaza Hotel to agree to higher wages and benefits for workers that are on par with those of other Chicago hotel workers.

Weissenberger says he does not know when the student bar association entered into the contract. It is unclear if the event will be rescheduled for another date.

Staff Writer Fernando Diaz covers labor and unions for the Daily News. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 14.