Time is running out for more than 300 O’Hare janitors who stand to lose their jobs by the end of next week as a result of a new city contract.
Local clergy members and workers' rights advocates held a prayer vigil with airport workers at City Hall Tuesday afternoon in a last ditch effort to persuade city officials to reverse their decision to award a $99 million custodial contract to a company critics claim plans to replace union jobs with non-union, lower-paying positions.
More than 100 supporters filled the fifth floor hallway outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office in protest over the city’s five-year agreement with United Maintenance Company Inc. to provide janitorial services for the airport beginning December 15.
In an interview with Progress Illinois last month, United Maintenance Vice President of Security and Corporate Compliance Anthony D’Angelo said the company planned to conduct an open enrollment plan to fill more than 350 available positions, and was confident a number of the current staff would be re-hired as a part of that process.
As many as 320 of the custodial staff currently working at O’Hare are members of SEIU* Local 1, and receive between $12.05 and $15.45 an hour in wages.
Under the new contract, all employees would be considered new hires and, as such, would receive the starting rate of $11.90 no matter how many years they may have previously worked at the airport.
“I just currently got to the top scale pay, and things were starting to roll around for me, but it looks like it’s just not going to happen,” said Jermaine Samples, who has worked as a custodian at O’Hare for the past four years. “I don’t see how the mayor can celebrate the holidays and his birthday just knowing that so many people are going to be out of work.”
Samples talked about the effect the loss of his job will have on his family and community:
Samples’ sentiments were echoed by ARISE Chicago Executive Director Rev. C. J. Hawking, who promised to hold a rally at City Hall every day at 3:30 p.m. until the workers’ jobs were saved.
“We cannot celebrate the holidays with joy if we know that our neighbors have been kicked to the curb and are now out of work,” Hawking said. “So we gather today believing in a Hanukkah miracle, we gather believing in a Christmas miracle this season, in this city, with these people today."
Here, Hawking, along with other clergy members, speak at City Hall:
When asked about the issue at a press conference held earlier in the day, Emanuel stood steadfast in his support of the city’s contract with United Maintenance, saying it was based on a competitive bidding process designed to reduce costs and improve services citywide.
“We brought competition throughout the city and throughout all services,” Emanuel said. “That competition has brought better services at a lower price and more work.”
But the administration’s approach has come under scrutiny by union leaders, who contend that it has served to undercut workers' rights.
Last week, the last of 54 union custodial jobs at Chicago public libraries were cut and replaced with workers from private firms as part of the city's contracts with Triad Consulting Services and Dayspring Professional Services. This past summer, as many as 50 union janitors were laid-off when a new company contracted to clean police stations, city senior centers and health clinics replaced them with non-union workers.
Yesterday’s vigil was the latest in an ongoing series of events held by union members and their allies in an effort to save the workers’ jobs before the contract with United Maintenance goes into effect.
The last major event occurred November 29, when airport workers held a rally outside of the mayor’s home on his 53rd birthday.
Given the mayor’s statements regarding the contract, the chances of the city reversing its decision and reopening the bidding process are slim, a point SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff acknowledged during a recent interview with Progress Illinois.
Balanoff said SEIU would, however, continue to lobby for the passing of the Responsible Bidders Ordinance, which would require all city contractors to pay the state’s prevailing wage to their employees.
Emanuel has remained supportive of the deal with United Maintenance even in the light of recent reports that have tied company owner Richard Simon with another business owned by alleged mobster William Daddano Jr.
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsores this web site.