Emanuel proposes raise, right to organize for airport employees

Nearly 8,000 contract employees at O’Hare Airport would be paid “no less than $13.45-an-hour” and guaranteed the right to join unions under a mayoral plan embraced by organized labor.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Rahm Emanuel followed through on his promise to tie licenses for airport contractors to a “labor peace agreement” that allows baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, aircraft maintenance workers and security guards to organize without interference.

But the ordinance the mayor introduced goes beyond prohibiting contractors from interfering and preventing those workers from “engaging in strikes, picketing, work stoppages, boycotts or other economic interference.”

It would mandate those airline contractors and sub-contractors to pay their employees no less than $13.45-an-hour beginning on July 1, 2018, with annual increases every year after that tied to the cost-of-living.

Employees whose wages include gratuities would have to be paid $1-an-hour more than the $5.95-an-hour minimum wage that applies to tipped employees.

“Nothing shall impede licensed employees from bargaining collectively with representatives of their own choosing to establish wages or conditions of work in excess of the minimum standards,” the ordinance states.

Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the Emanuel floor leader who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Workforce Development, said the ordinance is patterned after a licensing plan at the Los Angeles airport that has already withstood a court challenge.

“We have set a [wage] floor. And we think that helps all of the workers at O’Hare,” O’Connor said Thursday.

“To the extent that the union can come in and enhance that, we have laid the table for that to take place. It’s not a city function to do the bargaining, but to make sure we have it where it can go on and that the airport runs in a smooth way.”

Jerry Morrison, assistant to the president of Service Employees International Union Local 1, praised Emanuel for going beyond the terms of a long-stalled airport living wage ordinance that was nearly brought to a vote on the City Council floor over the mayor’s objections.

“We’re excited that the mayor was willing to take a stand like that,” Morrison said.

Morrison stressed that there is “no guarantee of union membership.” SEIU Local 1 still must organize airport contract employees and hold union elections.

But the mayor’s ordinance “lays important groundwork,” by establishing “minimum standards” that the city, as the operator of O’Hare and Midway, will insist on, Morrison said.

“There will be some of these contractors that will be resistant. But the nice thing about a labor peace [agreement] is that these guys can’t go out and run multi-million dollar anti-union campaigns,” Morrison said.

“People will join a union 80-to-90 percent of the time if there’s fair, free and open elections and there’s not an anti-union smear campaign by an employer.”

Exciting News: Over 8,000 contracted airport workers in Chicago are a huge step closer in their Fight For $15 and union rights! Read the full piece over at The Chicago Sun-Times.

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