Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Tuesday May 14th, 2013, 4:46pm

Workers, Aldermen Want Emanuel To Push Controversial O'Hare Contractor To Recognize Janitors' Desire For SEIU Representation (VIDEO) (UPDATED)

After more than 70 percent of O’Hare’s recently hired janitors voted in favor of SEIU* Local 1 union representation, a small group of workers gathered with supporting aldermen at City Hall Tuesday to urge Mayor Rahm Emanuel to push the contractor to recognize the union.

“In a climate where everybody is trying to figure out how to squeeze the bottom line, the only way to protect workers is to have union representation,” said Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) in an interview with Progress Illinois.

Munoz said contractors, such as the O’Hare janitors’ employer, United Maintenance, Inc., are “squeezing wages.”

“We need to make sure the union protects their wages and benefits,” he said.

Last October, the City of Chicago awarded United Maintenance a five-year $99.4 million janitorial contract for O’Hare International Airport. More than 300 workers employed under the former contract and represented by SEIU were laid off in December. The company offered workers the opportunity to reapply for their jobs, but at lower wages and without union representation.

All but a select few, approximately 20 to 30 employees, were replaced with non-unionized, lower-paid workers.

Individuals who stayed on during the transition saw hourly wages reduced by approximately 30 percent, falling to $11.90 from an original pay range of $12.05 to $15.45. Employee health benefits were also cut, changing from family health care plans to individual plans that charge staggeringly high rates to include family members.

“We need the SEIU to stand up for us,” said Charles Dillard, 50, a janitor at O’Hare since January.

Dillard, who has 11 children and 20 grandkids, said an hourly rate of $11.90 is not enough to survive.

“A union would give us stability and a chance to have equal rights,” he said. “We deserve higher wages.”

Following a “yes” vote from 214 workers — more than 70 percent of the janitorial workforce — early last week, SEIU sent a letter to United Maintenance, asking the company to recognize the union as the workers’ legal representative. The letter requested a response by Friday, but union representatives said they have not yet gotten an answer from the contractor.

Tuesday’s press conference at City Hall, attended by Dillard and four other airport janitors, called on Mayor Emanuel to step in and urge the contractor he hired to recognize SEIU as the workers’ chosen union.

If the company recognizes SEIU as the workers’ legal representative, collective bargaining could begin.

“These used to be union jobs, and now these workers aren’t protected,” said SEIU Local 1 spokeswoman Izabela Miltko. “Bottom line is, these workers want to form a union.”

Miltko said workers aren’t asking for anything “crazy.”

“They’re asking for decent wages and access to health care for their families, that’s it,” she said. “We’re hoping (Emanuel) will urge his contractor, the contractor he chose back in December, to recognize SEIU and let them bargain in good faith.”

In addition to Munoz, O’Hare’s janitorial workers saw support from Alds. Pat Dowell (3rd)Will Burns (4th)Roderick Sawyer (6th)Toni Foulkes (15th)John Arena (45th) and Ameya Pawar (47th).

According to Arena, unions create a “fair and balanced economy.”

“Workers need support,” he said, noting United Maintenance is paying its employees “unfair wages.”

Here’s more from Arena:

Arena was one of five aldermen to call for an investigation of the United Maintenance contract in January.

Because Richard Simon, owner of United Maintenance, failed to disclose the company’s change in ownership during the bidding process, Arena and other aldermen accused the company of violating city procurement rules. Simon sold 50 percent of the company nearly one year before getting awarded the O'Hare Airport janitorial contract.

A letter sent to city Inspector General Joe Ferguson called for an investigation into the United Maintenance contract, saying  “(procurement) rules are critical to ensuring that City funds are properly spent and employees of contractors are treated fairly.”

No investigation of the contract has been conducted, nor has there been any examination of the company’s alleged mob ties.

Eyebrows were raised over a 1987 incident during which Paul Fosco, vice president of United Maintenance's parent company, was sentenced to prison for racketeering and charged alongside alleged mobster Anthony "Big Tuna" Accardo.

Meanwhile, Anthony D’Angelo, head of compliance for United Maintenance, told Progress Illinois that he had no knowledge of the janitors’ vote to unionize with SEIU.

D’Angelo said he was under the impression O’Hare’s janitorial workforce had voted to unionize with the Teamsters Local 727. He says he is unaware of a letter from SEIU requesting recognition, and said United Maintenance has made several unsuccessful attempts to reach the union.

“What we know, is what cards we have signed, and 70 percent of the workforce voted in favor of SEIU,” Miltko said. She said the workers are not currently under contract with the Teamsters, and it was unclear how that union was brought into the mix.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Teamsters Local 727 Secretary-Treasurer John Coli endorsed Emanuel during his campaign. According to the newspaper, Nora Kelley, chief of staff at SEIU Local 1, said the Teamsters union was granted “preferential access” by Emanuel's administration and United Maintenance.

City Hall spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton, who responded to inquiries from the Chicago Sun-Times, reduced the situation to “a dispute between two labor organizations.”

“To our knowledge the workers have chosen SEIU,” Miltko said.

A spokeswoman from the Teamsters union could not be reached for comment.

“We totally support the rights of our employees to choose to unionize,” D’Angelo said, adding that the company plays no role in choosing between the SEIU Local 1 and Teamsters Local 727.

Regarding a wage increase and contract negotiations, D’Angelo said the company was already “locked into a contract.”

“Those terms are pretty much set,” he said.

But during Tuesday’s press conference, Munoz said, the workers’ approval vote to unionize with SEIU indicates that “justice to janitors has prevailed.”

“We’re here to urge the Emanuel administration to urge United Maintenance to make sure they recognize the union and bargain in good faith, because that is ultimately what we want; justice for janitors.”

UPDATE 1 (5:17 p.m.): Miltko has provided a May 6 letter from Coli on Teamster letterhead stating that the union has no "representational interest" in the O'Hare janitorial workers. The letter was written to United Maintenance Inc.'s legal counsel.

"The Teamsters have formally communicated with United Maintenance that they are renouncing interest in the O'Hare janitors in pursuance to a jurisdictional agreement," Milkto said in a statement.

* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.

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