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Alderman Says O'Hare Contractors, Airlines Should 'Respect Workers' Or Be Banned

In Chicago, hundreds of protesters at O’Hare International Airport were outside terminals chanting “What do we want? $15! When do we want it? Now!”

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Hundreds were in front of terminals with signs, chanting for O’Hare airport service workers strike.

Miles Bryan/WBEZ

Hundreds of service workers at O’Hare International Airport went on strike Tuesday to demand a $15 per hour minimum wage, and one influential alderman said the city should ban airlines and contractors from doing business with the city if do not meet some of the workers’ demands.

Ald. George Cardenas, who represents the 12th Ward and heads the City Council’s Latino Caucus, said the city could use upcoming negotiations with United Airlines over its lease of terminal space at O’Hare as leverage to support the workers’ demands.

“We will stand by our workers,” Cardenas said. “Those are our values. And those values of these airlines, and the values of these companies that do not share the same as we do, will be banned from working and doing business with the city.”

United’s lease is up for renegotiation May 2018, according to a spokesperson with the Chicago Department of Aviation.

The striking O’Hare workers do service jobs, like cabin cleaning or security, and want a bump in their minimum wage in addition to other union benefits.

About 600 workers voted to strike, according to a spokesperson with the Service Employees International Union local 1, which organized the strike.

The workers walked off the job in shifts throughout Tuesday, ending Tuesday night, according to SEIU.

The city’s Department of Aviation said in a statement that there were no flight disruptions because of the strike.

The protests in Chicago coincided with similar rallies in cities including Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York. In many cities, the protesters blocked busy intersections.

The efforts were part of the National Day of Action to Fight for $15 and included walkouts of workers from McDonald’s restaurants.

About 25 of the 350 protesters in New York City were arrested. One protester, Flavia Cabral, 55, said she struggles to make ends meet with two part-time jobs.

“All these people don’t have savings because we’re working check to check,” Cabral said. “We have to decide what we are going to get: We’re going to pay rent or we’re going to put food on the table or we’re going to send my child to school.”

Detroit police say they arrested about 40 protesters who blocked traffic. And nearly three dozen protesters have been arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the San Francisco Bay Area, ride-hailing drivers, fast-food employees, airport workers and others shut down an Oakland intersection.

The Chicago Police Department said no protesters were arrested.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Miles Bryan is a reporter with WBEZ. You can follow him @miles__bryan.

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