Unionized janitors lose battle over O’Hare jobs

A face-off between SEIU and the City of Chicago didn’t stop lay-offs for over 300 airport cleaners

December 14, 2012

(Flickr/Ben Saunders)
Baggage claim at O'Hare Airport.

Hundreds of unionized janitors turned in their badges Friday at O’Hare International Airport after losing their jobs in a contentious contract deal.

The task of cleaning and washing the windows at O’Hare will now be taken over by 400 non-unionized workers.

Labor leaders and union members held protests Monday through Thursday. They targeted Mayor Rahm Emanuel for union-busting.

“These were already organized union members,” said Laura Garza, Secretary-Treasurer with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1. “So the question for the city is, why did they eliminate those good jobs, those middle-class jobs in the city? There was no need for the city of Chicago, for our mayor to do this to these workers.”

United Maintenance, the company that won the 5-year contract with the City of Chicago said it’s not up to them whether employees are unionized .

“That’s totally within the purview of the employee whether or not they want to unionize,” said Anthony D’Angelo, Vice President of Security with United Service Companies which oversees United Maintenance. “It’s not management’s decision.”

The face-off between the union and United Maintenance has gotten more heated in the days leading up to the janitors’ final day on the job, with both sides telling very different versions of the story.

In press releases this week, SEIU said workers will be paid less for the same work; United Maintenance said it’s paying some new hires more than they were making previously at O’Hare as employees of Scrubs, Inc. SEIU said workers will have to pay for family health benefits when they didn’t before; United Maintenance said its health package will be more comprehensive than the one offered by Scrubs, Inc.

Officials at the new contractor said they’ve hired back 110 workers who were previously with the union. SEIU put that number at 50 out of 400 laid-off workers.

The starting wage for janitors with United Maintenance is $11.90 - 15 cents less than the starting wage with Scrubs, Inc.

Garza said SEIU will try to organize the new O’Hare workers. She said those who lost their jobs did not want to speak to media Friday after an “emotional week”, but they are applying for unemployment and looking for work.