Security workers at O'Hare International Airport went on strike Thursday, alleging unfair labor practices by their employer Universal Security.
Fourteen out of 160 O'Hare security officers employed by Universal Security staged the one-day "unfair labor practice" strike to protest against alleged retaliation by their employer for speaking out about work conditions and organizing.
"These workers are the people who work hard to keep our passengers safe, but they work in a hostile environment each and every day and are constantly under the threat of losing their jobs," said Genie Kastrup, vice president and chief of staff with SEIU* Local 1.
"Training airport workers properly and compensating them fairly would greatly increase their ability to fulfill their role as security officers," she added during a morning press conference at the union's downtown offices. "But bad policies like those implemented by Universal Security ultimately make our airports less secure and intimidate their workforce."
A Universal Security spokesman declined to answer questions related to the strike but did provide the following statement to Progress Illinois:
Universal Security operations at O'Hare International Airport are running normally today. Universal Security is meeting all of its obligations and through the tireless efforts of its officers, will continue to meet those obligations. We thank all of our officers for their constant dedication and hard work day in and day out in keeping the airports safe and secure. Universal values each of its employees and treats each of them fairly and in accordance with the law; any claims that suggest otherwise are simply untrue.
The O'Hare security officers were among thousands of contracted workers at airports in 11 major U.S. cities who staged strikes Thursday as part of the SEIU-backed Airport Workers United campaign, union officials said. Airport workers with the nationwide campaign are pushing for a $15 minimum wage and union recognition.
The typical Universal Security officer at O'Hare makes $12 an hour, union officials said.
O'Hare Universal Security officers began their organizing push in late September. Since then, two workers have been fired and others have been written up, according to SEIU Local 1 representatives. Striking security officers claim the disciplinary actions were in response to workers organizing.
After working as a Universal Security officer at O'Hare for about eight years, Dorothy Allaway said she was fired last month for union activity.
"I love my job. I love the work I do. I love my coworkers, but unfortunately, I was terminated on the 16th" of October, she said. "Why? Because I was collaborating with the union. We need a union for our job."
Frank Kennebrew, 24, is currently employed by Universal Security. He and his colleagues perform duties such as guarding doors at O'Hare and gates on the airfield.
"We help keep the airport secure. O'Hare and private contractors should value our voices. Instead, they write us up and try to keep us quiet," Kennebrew said. "We can't work under constant threats like this that we see on a day-to-day basis."
Here are additional comments from striking Universal Security officer Doreen Chapman and SEIU's Kastrup:
Unfair labor charges over the retaliation allegations have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, union officials said. Kastrup said the required three days' notice was given to Universal Security before Thursday's one-day "unfair labor practice" strike.
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