Dozens of custodial workers from O’Hare International Airport filled the fifth floor of City Hall Friday in protest of a recent city contract. The Emanuel administration recently awarded a new five-year janitorial contract with a company that may replace more than 300 union jobs at the airport with non-union, lower-paying positions by next month.
Last month, the city awarded United Maintenance Company, Inc., with a $99 million contract to provide cleaning services for the world’s busiest airport. The company replaced current contractor Scrub, Inc., whose contract expired in June. Records show Scrub has been contracted by the City of Chicago since at least 2004.
United Maintenance is scheduled to take over custodial services beginning December 15, according to Vice President of Security and Corporate Compliance Anthony D’Angelo, who said the company planned on hiring more than 350 people.
“We encourage everyone to apply, whether they’re former employees out there with the previous contractor, whether they’re our employees or whether they’re new hires,” D’Angelo said. “We want the most talented workforce we can get out there and we’re encouraging everyone to apply.”
D’Angelo said the company planned to have an open enrollment process to fill those jobs, which would, in essence, eliminate the positions currently held by members of Service Employees International Union Local 1. D’Angelo said those who were currently part of the janitorial staff at O’Hare were free to apply for the new openings, and that those who were hired were free to join a union if they so choose.
But according to custodial worker Mildred Rueda, 35, of Chicago, only a portion of the current workforce will be retained, which she said would allow United Maintenance to hire new staff at lower wages and reduced benefits.
“Right now, a lot of us are making $15 [an hour] and they’re going to cut that down to $11.90,” said Rueda, who has worked at the airport for the past seven years. “This new company has yet to come in to explain to us what their intentions are and what they’re bringing to the table.”
Under the terms of the contract, all newly-hired workers would receive $11.90 for their first year, with a raise up to $15.30 by their fifth year of employment.
D’Angelo said he did not know whether the current workers, if they were to be re-hired, would receive their current rate of pay, or be considered new employees and therefore get $11.90 an hour.
Rueda estimated that up to half of the current staff of 340 could get laid off as a result of the new contract, a situation she said was especially sad considering the changes are set to occur during the holiday season.
“I have two kids and a grandchild,” Rueda said. “For Christmas, I’m just thinking like, how am I going to be able to even purchase any gifts considering the fact that I really don’t know what’s going to happen with myself and my job?"
Nearly 50 of her co-workers joined Rueda in a protest outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office Friday morning to ask city officials to re-open the bidding process in order to award the contract to a company that would agree to maintain the current workforce as well as maintain their current pay and benefits.
SEIU* Local 1 spokeswoman Izabela Miltko says situations such as the one facing O’Hare custodial staff have become common in the time Emanuel has been in office.
“We plan on having more actions, working with various community groups to try to overturn this decision,” Miltko said. “The chances are very slim, but we will be doing whatever it takes to try to keep these workers at work for Christmas.”
In a move toward government austerity, the mayor has made a series of spending cuts within the city budget that has led to the outsourcing of a number of public-sector positions to private firms.
* The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this web site.