There were a number of Chicago City Council committee meetings today in order to advance matters for Wednesday’s full council session. One committee that did not meet and has, in fact, only met once since the start of 2012 is the Workforce Development and Audit Committee, chaired by Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s council floor leader.
That the workforce committee is missing in action means that Ald. Jason Ervin’s (28th) ordinance to guarantee the city’s 2,400 airport workers a “living wage” hasn’t moved since it was referred to the committee last October – even as the majority of airport concession workers head into contract negotiations this summer.
The living wage ordinance would guarantee roughly $11.18 to concession workers at O’Hare International and Midway airports. Some of these workers, many of whom are represented by UNITE-HERE Local 1, currently get less than the minimum wage because their positions are classified as tipped jobs.
The living wage ordinance – which Ervin dubs “Stable Jobs, Stable Airports” because better pay is tied to less employee turnover and smoother labor-management relations – is co-sponsored by 31 of the city’s 50 aldermen.
Majority support means nothing, though, in the Chicago City Council unless the committee chairman brings up the matter. It is not certain why O’Connor has not let committee members debate the ordinance. Messages to the aldermen were not returned today.
Speculation is that the city would like the ordinance to remain dormant, as the city Department of Aviation opposes the measure. “The matters raised in the ordinance are best addressed in open market negotiations between the labor unions and concessionaries without interference from the city of Chicago,” says aviation spokeswoman Tammy Chase.
Chase said that she did not know why O’Connor’s committee hasn’t met to discuss Ervin’s ordinance.
Ervin’s office has arguably not made much fuss about the issue. “The alderman is still in talks with his colleagues,” says Ervin spokesman Ty Cratic, “to increase the number of co-sponsors to the ordinance.”
Meanwhile, “workers are feeling increasingly agitated and uncertain,” according to Bhav Tibrewal, a research analyst at UNITE HERE.
Tibrewal points out the city is re-negotiating a host of airport concession contracts beginning next month, including one with HMS Host, O’Hare’s largest food and beverage concessionaire. After winning a city contract, the concessionaires will then negotiate with the city.
According to Tibrewal, over 1,500 workers will be impacted by these new contracts.