With turnover of airport concession contractors on the horizon, employees’ concern for their jobs and wages prompted Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) to sponsor a new ordinance earlier this month aiming to ensure fair living wages and job security.
On Wednedsay morning, Unite Here!, the union representing airport workers and other hospitality-related employees, is set to hold a rally outside of the city council budget committee hearing to encourage aldermen to support deals that provide workers with good, stable jobs. The group held a similar rally before the October 5 city council meeting.
“We elected you to an office, it’s time for you to take a stand for us,” Jerry Ward, a sales associate for HDS Relay at Midway Airport, said at the rally.
He has worked in that role for five years and makes an annual salary of $19,000, sharing an apartment with his mother to make ends meet. He spoke at the rally with tears in his eyes, saying his job keeps him off street corners. “City leaders have the power and the responsibility to do this for us."
"There are sandwiches for sale at the airport that cost more than what I make an hour,” Ward said.
Employees of contractors working in airport concessions have previously been excluded from the Chicago Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance. If the Stable Jobs, Stable Airports Ordinance passes, they would no longer be excluded and could potentially get a raise from minimum wage. Also, during contractor turnover, the ordinance mandates employees may not be discharged within a 90-day trial period without just cause.
The new ordinance was introduced at the October 5 city council meeting, and went to the Workforce Development and Audit Committee to be voted on. If it gets approved, it’ll go before the full council.
“The last thing the city of Chicago needs is another set of unemployed workers,” said Ervin, sponsor of the ordinance. Ervin, and at least 11 other aldermen spoke at the rally earlier this month in support of the ordinance. “Over a quarter of a billion dollars in concession contracts are about to change… we do not want people left out, that are workers, that are residents of our wards, that are contributors to the city of Chicago.”
Ervin cited 18 other airports around the country, including Los Angeles International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport, as having job security during contractor turnover and living wage standards for their employees.
“We're not leading, we're following,” Ald. Tim Cullerton (38th), co-sponsor for the ordinance, said. “I don’t know why it would face any opposition, there’s a lot of support.”
Contractors not paying a living wage would absorb the cost of the potential raise for employees. Cullerton said he was unsure if the increase in wages would be reflected in an increase in price for their product, saying what they already charge is high enough to compensate.
“This is a moderate increase,” he said. He noted that employees would be getting three or four dollars more an hour, which may bring some up to $20 thousand yearly. “That’s pretty rough.”
“In this day and age we should promote the family unit, if people aren’t out making a decent wage, they may be stealing.”