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Chicago Airport Workers Call For Job Security Guarantees At City Council Hearing

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The American Airlines baggage claim at O'Hare International Airport.
The American Airlines baggage claim at O'Hare International Airport.

Hundreds of workers from Chicago's Midway and O'Hare airports will descend on City Hall Wednesday morning to attend a City Council meeting on the turnover of concessions contracts that could threaten more than a thousand jobs.

The hearing will evaluate the "Stable Jobs, Stable Airports" Ordinance introduced by 31 aldermen in October, which would require the airport's newly-contracted concessions management firm to provide stability for current workers, to abstain from pay cuts, and to follow city minimum wage standards during the ownership transition, according to Unite Here, a union representing roughly 1,300 airport workers. LAX, LaGuardia, JFK and other U.S. airports have adopted similar policies during redevelopment.

Last summer, the city awarded Westfield Concession Management a 25-year contract to improve O'Hare Airport's Terminal 5, which hosts a significant number of vendors and restaurants. Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the deal, slamming the previous management for using a month-to-month arrangement that cost the city money and failing to be transparent during contract negotiations, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But following a series of terminations from vendors in Terminal 5, workers are worried that employee turnover will be part of Westfield's overhauls, and want to express support for a proposed ordinance that would prevent it, according to Unite Here.

"Fears were confirmed in January when the majority of existing retail workers in the O’Hare International Terminal (T5) were tossed out of work as a new contractor took over under the controversial 20-year International Terminal contract," Unite Here wrote in the release.

On their website, Westfield Management Company outlines their development plan for the terminal, noting that their redevelopment project will create 180 construction jobs, and the "new dining and retail program will create 100 new full-time concession jobs, adding to the existing 180 concession positions for a total of approximately 280 employees."

But airport workers worry not only that those jobs won't be filled by current or recently fired employees, but also that the jobs they create will have sub-standard pay, like Prospect Airport Services, Inc., which supplies service workers at both airports, according to the release.

Workers partnered with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the fall to bring attention to wage conflicts with Prospect, including the low base pay for employees who transport handicapped passengers across the airport. Airport staff told The Huffington Post's Dave Jamieson that they're paid below minimum wage, on the assumption that they'll earn tips, but that most patrons aren't aware tipping as expected, and employees aren't allowed to ask.

Prospect Airport Services called the union's efforts part of a "defamation campaign" on their website.

At Wednesday's hearing, workers hope to garner support for the "Stable Jobs, Stable Airports" Ordinance, and to ensure that aldermen are mindful of workers' interests as the redevelopment project continues.

See coverage from the original announcement of the ordinance:

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