Hundreds of workers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport said Thursday they plan to strike “over the holiday season.”
The announcement comes just days after AAA predicted nearly four million Americans will fly over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
The workers include O’Hare security guards, baggage handlers and airplane cleaners, said Service Employees International Union Local 1 President Tom Balanoff.
The exact days of the potential strike have not yet been announced, but Balanoff confirmed actions could begin “in the coming days.” SEIU Local 1 added on Twitter that a strike could happen “over the holiday season.”
Balanoff said the potential strike is expected to “disrupt” service at the airport.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement it does not “anticipate any disruption in service at Chicago’s airports during the holiday season and (encourages) passengers to contact individual airlines for information regarding their specific flight.”
The workers, who are seeking to unionize, voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a strike, Balanoff said. The workers are currently contract employees for the city or airlines. Among their demands is a $15 per hour wage, he said.
Kisha Rivera said she is a minimum wage cabin cleaner who starts at 4 a.m.
“We are taken advantage of,” Rivera said. “We are not given the right equipment or treatment … and when we speak up we are retaliated against. They treat us like animals.”
Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward and chairman of the city’s Progressive Caucus, said the wages send the message that workers are not welcome in Chicago.
“The idea that they have to go on strike … for basic and safe working conditions, to be treated like human beings, is outrageous” added Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th.
The Department of Aviation said it “held discussions with the airlines and legislators to ensure service delivery at the airports puts customers first.”
“(We) remain committed to ongoing dialogue with all parties. The CDA expects every contractor to follow the law, and will aid the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) and the Illinois Department of Labor to take whatever action is necessary,” according to the Department of Aviation statement.
Nearly 3.7 million Americans are expected to fly between Nov. 23 and Nov. 27, an increase of 1.6 percent compared to last year, according to AAA.
Travel company Orbitz said O’Hare could be the busiest airport in the country for Thanksgiving travel.
Miles Bryan is a reporter for WBEZ. Follow him at @miles__bryan.