Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama took a couple laps on the picket line outside Chicago's Congress Plaza Hotel this afternoon, showing his solidarity with workers associated with a key union that has many members in the early voting state of Nevada.
The Illinois Democrat, in a white dress shirt with sleeves rolled up, received cheers from about 100 strikers after he jumped out of a black SUV with his Secret Service agents in front of the South Michigan Avenue property.
"I can only imagine how difficult it has been," he told the workers through a bullhorn, a translator then offering his words in Spanish. "You have been out here in the cold. You have been out here in the hot."
Last month marked the fourth anniversary of the strike at South Michigan Avenue property, where housekeepers, dishwashers, bartenders and other employees are engaged in one of the longest-running ongoing strikes in the nation.
Obama said that workers must stick together, if they are to get ahead.
"The reason you have been able to do it is because you are a member of a strong union," he said. "When workers are divided, employers can pick them off when workers are united, every worker benefits."
The Congress workers are represented by UNITE HERE Local 1, a sister group of the Culinary Union, which represents 60,000 hotel and restaurant workers in Las Vegas. In an interview late last week with a Las Vegas newspaper, Obama made a point to mention that he would be marching at the Chicago hotel this week.
The Chicago union said the hotel is offering wages of $8.83 an hour for housekeepers, even though the citywide "standard" is now $13.20.
Obama challenged a television reporter's suggestion that the event was a publicity stunt, saying he had walked the very same picket line when he was running for the U.S. Senate. "I was here four years ago," he said.
A representative of the hotel, meanwhile, said Obama should have not involved himself in the dispute.
"It's unfortunate that the senator has chosen to involve himself in a labor dispute that was caused by this union," said Peter Andjelkovich, a Chicago attorney and chief negotiator for the hotel. "If the senator was aware of all the facts and circumstances involved with this strike he would perhaps reconsider taking sides with the union."
Obama declined to comment on a new "Obama Girl" video that is circulating on the Internet. "That's not why we are here," he said.