Berlin workers remained on strike Saturday night. Credit: Twitter/Unite Here Local 1
Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

LAKEVIEW — Workers at the famed LGBTQ+ nightclub Berlin have ended their two-day strike over stalled contract negotiations with ownership.

Employees walked out of Berlin, 954 W. Belmont Ave., at 10 p.m. Friday — the club’s opening time — and picketed outside through Saturday night. The club is closed Sundays.

Throughout the strike, workers were joined by performers like Irregular Girl and Siichelle, who canceled popular show “Strapped” on Friday, and Tenderoni, host of the also-canceled “Saturday Night Drag Show.”

The workers, who unionized in April with Unite Here Local 1, announced Sunday the strike had ended and they would re-enter contract negotiations with Berlin owners Jo Webster and Jim Schuman. The strike was called after the owners repeatedly skipped bargaining sessions, bringing negotiations to a halt, organizers said.

“We will now re-enter negotiations with the company with a heck of a lot of strength and pride,” Unite Here Local 1 said in a tweet. “A better future is on its way.”

Berlin management said in a statement it had been “blindsided” by the strike.

Managers said they had received “additional proposed contract terms” two days prior to Friday’s walkout. But strike organizers said that a proposal for raises and improved health care access had gone unacknowledged for weeks.

“This is a disappointment to everyone here at Berlin because we believed we were progressing in our contract discussions,” the statement from management said.

Progress on a contract has been slow since the union formed, said Berlin bartender Jolene Saint, who sits on the bargaining committee.

Saint has worked at Berlin for six years, starting as a security guard — one of the club’s most difficult and lowest paid jobs that usually offers workers “no sight of a raise,” she said.

Saint said Webster and Schuman’s absence at the bargaining table has made negotiations intractable.

“Them not being at the table is really dragging this whole contract negotiation on much longer than it needs to be dragging on. And in the meantime people are still getting paid minimum wage. In the meantime, people still feel precarious,” Saint said.

Untipped security staff at Berlin make minimum wage, $15.80 an hour, according to Saint. The workers’ proposal would raise that to $25 an hour, Saint said, the rate that “should be standard” for the difficult work security staff do. 

In its statement, management said they had “already agreed to many of the union’s highest priority requests, including those involving security and training.” Managers said they “have been constructively working with our employees to reach a contract that is fair to the workers but is also financially responsible.”

The bargaining committee has been able to make some strides in the past months. Saint said she and other committee members successfully worked with Webster and Schuman’s lawyer to develop a new set of training protocols designed to make working at the club safer for security and wait staff. 

Saint said she hoped the strike would inspire management to pick up the pace. 

“We are willing and able to go on strike and they need to stop dragging their feet,” she said. 

GoFundMe for the bar’s unionized workers and performers losing their weekend wages had raised nearly $7,000 as of Saturday night, and now has raised over $8,700. Organizers told Block Club it should be enough to cover lost wages. 

Hosts of “Strapped” and the “Saturday Night Drag Show” have also shared the Venmo accounts for the performers who lost out on tips during the strike.

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