After months of negotiation, political threats and demonstrations, airport service workers and the contractors that employ them at O’Hare and Midway Airports are hailing a labor peace agreement [O2017-5553] that will be considered in a joint committee hearing Monday at 10:00 a.m. in Council chambers. The meeting of Aviation and Workforce Development Committees will take up an ordinance binding passenger service contractors to wage increases for nearly 8,000 airport employees, starting July 2018, and in perpetuity for any contractors doing business in Chicago airports.
SEIU Local 1, which negotiated the agreement on behalf of the workers, has been working to organize airline contractors that clean cabins, handle baggage, de-ice planes and push wheelchairs at the city’s airports for over two years. Those workers, they say, are often victims of wage theft and poor working conditions, leading to massive turnover.
The union’s organizing efforts were kicked up a notch this spring, when the union mailed flyers attacking Finance Chair Ed Burke (14), Aviation Chair Mike Zalewski (23) and Workforce Chair Pat O’Connor (40) as well as Ald. Tom Tunney (44), Ald. Marty Quinn (13) and Ald. Marge Laurino (40) for not supporting their organizing efforts. Then, in June, SEIU targeted O’Connor with six mail pieces in his city worker-heavy ward, denouncing him for his opposition to union organizing.
Earlier this year an ordinance with broad Council support was introduced, but it was referred to Rules Committee, where many ordinances go to die.
In addition to the labor peace component, the ordinance requires any subcontractors or sublicensees to pay their employees no less than $13.45 per hour for work under the Illinois Minimum Wage Law. Increases are tied to the consumer price index. Tipped employees, like wheelchair attendants and skycaps, would be paid “no less than the minimum hourly wage set by the Minimum Wage Law for workers who receive Gratuities, plus an additional $1.00 per hour.” Tipped employees must be paid minimum wage, which is $8.25 per hour, but an employer may take credit for the employee’s tips in an amount not to exceed 40% of the wages under Illinois law.
It also requires that licensees “establish a written training program to ensure that all employees are thoroughly trained and qualified to perform their job duties, including all applicable airport emergency preparedness, evacuation, and first aid procedures.”
Labor peace agreements are typically used to cover hotels, restaurants, casinos, and airports that either receive public funding or do business with a local municipality, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Under the written arrangement between a union and an employer, both sides agree to waive certain labor rights granted under federal law, such as the right to organize or go on strike, as long as the employer treats the workers as a collective bargaining unit, essentially giving them the ability to negotiate wages and benefits.