Janitors Fight For Jobs And Fair Pay
Earlier this month, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel oversaw a meeting of the fifth annual Airports Going Green conference, where airport and airline executives from around the world were discussing the latest in sustainable airport management. In addition to discussions regarding aviation biofuel development, electric vehicles, recycled asphalt, community volunteer days and LED flight information screens, the meeting addressed the state of more than 300 janitorial jobs at O'Hare International Airport.
Prior to this meeting, the city signed a contract with a new subcontractor to replace Scrub, which currently employs the airport janitors. United Maintenance Company, which won the contract, reportedly submitted a bid to the city's aviation department promising to do the work for $11 million less than Scrub, a difference of about 10 percent. United Maintenance is not required to hire the people who worked for Scrub, and if they do it will likely be at lower wages, weaker benefits and without union representation.
Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU Local 1 (which represents all 330 of the janitors at O'Hare), believes the new contractor will try to thwart any efforts by the janitors to unionize. He says that United Maintenance head, Roger Simon, specifically told him they would not recognize SEIU Local 1 and that Simon indicated starting wages will be $12 an hour, considerably lower than the $15 an hour many are making with Scrub.
SEIU Local 1 finds the cost-cutting in the janitorial contracts especially frustrating because the city does not save any money. The janitorial funds don't come out of the general city budget, but rather are covered through fees paid by airlines. Moreover, the city rejected bids by several union contractors who, like Scrub, also recognize SEIU Local 1 and would pay union wages. (They are covered by the union's master contract.)
"This is simply a way to bust the union," Balanoff said. "And it's the wrong direction to be going in."
SEIU Local 1 represents janitors, window washers, security guards and others who work for private contractors in city buildings. While the airport janitorial jobs have been privatized for a number of years, Balanoff would like to see them made public again—with workers directly hired by the city — even though that would mean Local 1 losing members to SEIU Local 73, which represents city employees.
Union workers plan to gather at O’Hare Airport to protest the new contract.
To read more about what is going on at O'Hare, click here.