Hundreds of O’Hare Workers Set to Lose Their Jobs Just Before Christmas

Mayor Emanuel Likely to Cut More Jobs, Forcing Hundreds of Families onto Public Assistance

November 8, 2012

Contact:             Izabela Miltko, 708.655.9681,

Chicago—More than 300 janitors at O’Hare airport may lose their jobs right before Christmas this year because Mayor Rahm Emanuel awarded a key public contract to a cleaning contractor with a history of undercutting good jobs. The company, United Maintenance, has already stated it will hire new workers and pay lower wages; what are now full time, family-sustaining jobs could become part time poverty jobs. This isn’t the first time in recent months that the mayor has turned his back on Chicago workers.

Mayor Emanuel has already eliminated many city jobs and outsourced others to companies that dramatically reduce wages and benefits. This includes a recent cleaning contract at police stations and other city buildings where dozens of janitors lost their jobs. Similarly, the O’Hare janitors currently have a union contract, family health care, and a living wage, but they will lose their jobs after years of service to this City and join the ranks of Chicago’s unemployed. The workers who take their place will likely be forced to rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet. Policies like this contribute to poverty in our communities and strike a blow to Chicago’s dwindling middle class.

“We don’t know how we will pay the bills, how we will put food on the table. We won’t be able to celebrate Christmas this year with our kids,” says Manuel Nieves, a janitor at O’Hare for seven years. Manuel and his coworkers don’t understand how the mayor and the newly re-elected President could have such different policies on jobs: “Obama is always here for the working people, but our mayor’s ultimate purpose is to help the rich, not us.”

Chicago is experiencing record unemployment, record foreclosures and record poverty. Wages have remained flat for 90% of Chicagoans in the last ten years. Voters say these are issues they expected Emanuel to address by creating good jobs for working families—not replacing them with low-wage, no benefit jobs. Mayor Emanuel stated as much in his November 4 State of the Nation appearance on behalf of the Obama campaign. He applauded the President for “building on the middle class and not short-changing them like Mitt Romney would do” by ensuring they can own a home, send their kids to college and have a secure retirement.

“Our mayor says one thing and does another,” says SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. “Hundreds of families would be forced into poverty and onto taxpayer-funded assistance programs if this decision stands. It’s not what workers expect from a Democratic Mayor of Chicago who was President Barack Obama’s right hand in Washington.”



SEIU Local 1 unites 50,000 property service workers in the central United States, including janitors, security officers and residential doormen. Together we work to build strength for all working people, on the job and in our communities.

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