Airport Workers, Scholars, and Clergy Rally at O’Hare in Response to Shocking UIC Study

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Media Contact: Izabela Miltko, 708-655-9681,

UIC Researchers Find Over 33% of Airport Workers Earn Below Minimum Wage

CHICAGO – This morning at O’Hare Airport, dozens of airport workers, academic researchers, faith leaders and community supporters protested rampant abuses by airline contractors and unveiled a shocking University of Illinois study revealing a hidden underclass working in Chicago’s airports.

The airport workers and their supporters in the Airport Worker Justice Coalition waved signs and chanted in a spirited rally between terminals 1 and 2 at the O’Hare departure level and a delegation of workers ventured inside to present Workers Bill of Rights posters to airline representatives.

The report, Tough Times in the Terminals: Broken Laws and Substandard Working Conditions in Chicago’s Airports, details a widespread pattern of wage theft, mistreatment, and racial discrimination plaguing airport workers, forcing many to rely upon food stamps and welfare to survive.

These workers provide vital services at Chicago’s airports yet are suffering consistent abuses of their most basic workplace protections,” said Robert Bruno, Professor of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois and a co-author of the report.

We want to be treated like human beings, not like animals,” said Reina Mairena, an employee of Prospect, an airport subcontractor, who works with harsh cleaning chemicals that damage her skin. “We want respect on the job.”

Among the key findings of the University of Illinois study:

  • 0% of surveyed Airport Workers can afford or enroll in company health care
  • 1 out of 5 airport workers had injuries requiring medical assistance in last year
  • 1 out of 4 “tipped” employees have been injured on the job in the last year requiring medical assistance
  • More than 1/4 of employees have experienced verbal abuse because of their race or national origin
  • Over 40% of airport workers surveyed said they relied on public assistance in the last year
  • Over one third of respondents earn below the minimum wage of $8.25 in hourly income

This is a moral outrage as well as an egregious violation of labor law,” said Rev. C.J. Hawking, a United Methodist minister and the Executive Director of Arise Chicago, a faith-based workers’ rights organization. “The dignity of these workers must be respected.

Because passenger service contractors are employed directly by airlines, the Airport Worker Justice Coalition has reached out to American Airlines and United Airlines to discuss the problem of wage theft. Despite repeated requests to meet, the group has not received any response from the airlines.

The Airport Worker Justice Coalition is comprised of passenger service workers from O’Hare and Midway airports and clergy from Arise Chicago.

Professor Bruno, Rev. Hawking, and airport workers are available for media interviews.


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