O’Hare Airport Worker Fights Against Trump’s Travel Ban

Chicago airport worker and Syrian refugee Mohammad Al Zayed is fighting against the Trump administration’s unjust travel ban.

Al Zayed, a janitor at O’Hare Airport, talked to the Associated Press on December 3 about how the travel ban would impact him and his family.

The article ran in The Washington Post and hundreds of other news outlets worldwide!

Fight over Trump travel restrictions back to appeals courts

(Ted S. Warren, File/Associated Press)

SEATTLE — For most of the time Syrian refugee Mohammad Al Zayed has been in the United States, judges have been wrestling with the Trump administration’s efforts to impose travel restrictions that he says would keep him from seeing relatives who remain overseas.

It’s taken an emotional toll — one that continues this week as two U.S. appeals courts take up the issue yet again.

“It’s been 10 months, and we’re stuck,” Al Zayed, a janitor at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, said through an Arabic interpreter. “We can’t go back. We can’t bring our loved ones here.”

Citing national security concerns, President Donald Trump announced his initial travel ban on citizens of certain Muslim-majority nations in late January, bringing havoc and protests to airports around the country. A federal judge in Seattle soon halted that ban as discriminatory, and since then, the restrictions have been up to the U.S. Supreme Court and back down to the federal district courts as the administration has rewritten them.

The third and latest version targets about 150 million potential travelers from Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, along with some Venezuelan government officials and their families.

The administration said the latest ban is based on assessments of each country’s security situation and their willingness to share information about travelers. But judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked it to varying degrees just before it was due to take effect in October. The judges found that the ban appears impermissibly discriminatory, has no legitimate national security purpose and violates U.S. immigration law.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in Seattle on the government’s appeal of the Hawaii judge’s ruling. The panel has already narrowed that decision to allow the administration to bar travelers who do not have a “bona fide” relationship with people or organizations already in the U.S. — an approach that echoed the Maryland judge’s ruling as well as an earlier travel ban decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

A full complement of 13 judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is due to hear the government’s appeal in the Maryland case on Friday in Richmond, Virginia.


Al Zayed, 50, arrived in the U.S. via Jordan in September 2016 with his wife, two sons and daughter after fleeing horrific fighting in Syria, which destroyed the textile factory where he worked and prevented his children from attending school. Al Zayed’s case is among several laid out in friend-of-the-court briefs filed by labor organizations opposed to the travel ban.

Al Zayed says he’s afraid he wouldn’t be able to return if he visited family overseas. His two brothers and parents remain in Syria, and he’s afraid he’ll never see his 85-year-old father again if the travel ban is upheld. Nevertheless, he says he’s happy to be here.

“Syria was very difficult — an impossible life for us,” he said. “So despite that they have the Muslim ban, I think, ‘Thank God that we are here.’”

Read the full article over at The Washington Post.


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Joined By DePaul University Students and Faculty, Building Security Officers Who Secure DePaul Hold Unfair Labor Practice Strike

Joined By DePaul University Students and Faculty, Building Security Officers Who Secure DePaul Hold Unfair Labor Practice Strike

After gathering more than 1,000 student signatures, students joined security officers to demand that DePaul’s administration support good jobs by replacing Guardian Security Services, Inc.

CHICAGO  — On Tuesday morning, DePaul University students, faculty, community allies and SEIU Local 1 joined non-union Guardian Security Services, Inc. officers as they went on a one-day unfair labor practice strike.

Guardian Security is the security contractor for DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus. Students, allies and non-union officers called on DePaul’s administration to replace Guardian Security with a responsible union contractor, which the university uses for janitors and security officers at four other campus sites.  

The officers’ campaign has strong support from allies and the community, with more than 1,000 students on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus signing a petition calling for their university to hire a contractor that prioritizes the safety of the campus over profits.

“This issue directly affects me and my fellow DePaul students because it’s our safety that is at stake, and it is our tuition dollars that pay for the security contractor on our campus,” said Alex Boutros, a senior at DePaul. “We’re here today to call on the DePaul administration to do the right thing: Stop taking advantage of these workers and hire a responsible security contractor that respects its workers and gives them a voice on the job.”

From alleged gender and racial discrimination to trouble with the National Labor Relations Board, Guardian Security has shown itself to be an irresponsible contractor. Many Guardian Security officers live in poverty and struggle to pay for basic needs, like groceries and CTA passes.


Service Employees International Union Local 1 (SEIU 1) unites 50,000 workers throughout the Midwest, including janitors, security officers, higher education faculty, food service workers and others. Local 1 is committed to improving the lives of its members and all working people by winning real economic justice and standing at the forefront of the fight for immigrant, racial and environmental justice.

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O’Hare Airport Worker Attends D.C. Convention: ‘It Was A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience’

As a wheelchair attendant at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, I help organize my fellow coworkers as we fight with SEIU Local 1 for $15 and union rights. Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to learn from fellow airport workers in Washington, D.C. as we came together for a one-day convention to develop our organizing skills and strategize in our fight.

I joined airport worker leaders from Philadelphia and Portland as we encouraged our D.C. brothers and sisters to keep fighting! I spoke on a panel about our recent Chicago airport victory in which a Local 1-backed ordinance passed, giving 8,000 O’Hare and Midway airport workers higher wages and union rights. During the panel, we discussed the importance of leadership in our workplace. I told my fellow airport workers that if we treat our coworkers with respect and dignity, our team should never break.

Check out video from the convention:

As my first ever trip to D.C., the convention was a powerful, once-in-a-lifetime experience to see our nation’s capital and meet workers who, just like me, are fighting for a better future. At O’Hare, I work for a company called Prospect Airport Services, and coincidentally, my D.C. roommate was a Prospect wheelchair attendant from Philadelphia. We bonded over our experiences and were able to explore D.C. together.

We saw the White House and toured D.C.’s iconic monuments, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. MLK’s quotes at the memorial were so moving. We plan to apply his words of wisdom in our fight for economic justice. It’s great to know that I am making a difference, not just for myself and my coworkers, but for airport workers across the country.

Danny Rodriguez works for Prospect Airport Services as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare Airport. With support from Local 1, he’s been helping lead his fellow airport workers in the Fight for $15 and union rights.
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Puerto Ricans And Allies, Including Ald. Roberto Maldonado And SEIU Local 1, Rally In Chicago To Demand President Trump And Congress Provide Real Relief And Rebuilding After Hurricane Maria

Puerto Ricans and Allies, Including Ald. Roberto Maldonado and SEIU Local 1, Rally In Chicago to Demand President Trump and Congress Provide Real Relief and Rebuilding After Hurricane Maria

Day of action across the U.S. called on federal authorities to move on immediate relief to the island and cancel Puerto Rico’s $72 billion in public debt

CHICAGO – Puerto Rican leaders, community allies and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) rallied today to demand immediate and sufficient federal aid to relieve and rebuild hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, including eliminating the island’s $72 billion in public debt, which is currently under review in federal bankruptcy court.

At the rally outside Merrill Lynch Wealth Management’s offices, members of Vamos4PR—the coalition of community, labor and civil rights organizations fighting for a fair economy for all Puerto Ricans—drew attention to the banks that helped create the Puerto Rican debt crisis and insist on continuing to profit in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Merrill Lynch was a leading underwriter for nearly 90 percent of Puerto Rico’s borrowings, reaping billions in fees from a distressed economy.

“Instead of thinking about how the island would need resources for the immense rescue, recovery and rebuilding efforts it faces, the banks that have profited from the debt crisis expect to get more,” said Janeida Fuentes, the Chicago coordinator of the National Boricua Human Rights Network and a member of The Puerto Rican Agenda. “It’s immoral to insist that before Puerto Rican families can rebuild their homes, hospitals, schools and roads, they must first pay back the banks.”

The rally was part of a day of action in a dozen U.S. cities to highlight the plight of 3.4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico who have no electricity and drinking water, face shortages in fuel and food and are dealing with severely crippled telecommunications.

Vamos4PR members called on the federal government to provide Puerto Rico with all the aid it needs and eliminate the island’s public debt.


BACKGROUND: For information on the Puerto Rican debt crisis and the bankruptcy case click here:

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Jel Sert Workers Win!

After months of coming together and showing their strength at the negotiation table, nearly 1,000 Jel Sert operators, mechanics, janitors, and clerks overwhelmingly ratified a strong new contract that provides financial security and a brighter future for themselves and their families.

The new contract will guarantee higher wages, better benefits, and a respect on the job. With their strong new contract, Jel Sert members will be better able to support their families and strengthen West Chicago.

These gains are a result of them coming together in the fight for economic justice. Jel Sert workers showed how coming together in their union helps working people win financial security and dignity at work. Jel Sert operators, mechanics, janitors, and clerks will continue to work hard to provide quality products for consumers and their West Chicago communities!

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8,000 Airport Workers in Chicago Just Won a Wage Raise and the Right to a Union

CHICAGO—Eight thousand workers at Chicago’s two airports have scored a major victory in their two-year campaign for higher wages and a union.

On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring private contractors—who employ O’Hare and Midway’s baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, janitors, security officers, ticket collectors and de-icers—to abide by new labor standards in order to be licensed by the city. Most employees of airport contractors make low wages, receive few benefits and lack job security.

The ordinance will require contractors to pay a minimum wage of $13.45 starting July 1, 2018, well above Chicago’s current minimum of $11 an hour. Though the Illinois General Assembly recently passed a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it last month.

“I’m a single mom with three kids and two grandkids. This raise will help contribute to supporting my family,” Darlene Navarro Montañez, an O’Hare janitor employed by the contractor Scrubs, told In These Times through an interpreter. “Eleven dollars an hour is just not enough.”

“With the raise, besides helping my family more, I could put bigger payments into paying back my student debt,” said Danny Rodriguez, a 24-year-old wheelchair attendant, security officer and shift lead at O’Hare.

The new law also stipulates that contractors must enter into “labor peace agreements” with any union seeking to organize their employees. Under such an agreement, the employer must remain neutral during a union organizing drive and certification election. In return, the union promises not to engage in “economically disruptive” actions like strikes and boycotts. By prohibiting employer interference, such agreements dramatically improve the likelihood of unionization.

“The next step is getting the union,” said Navarro Montañez, 37, who came to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico in search of a better life. “I want to see the company and the airport respect the employees.”

With a union contract, one of Rodriguez’s first priorities would be to get his employer, Prospect, to allow paid time off for family emergencies. Under the employer’s current policy, he fears getting fired whenever he has to miss work unexpectedly to look after his elderly grandmother, who requires 24-hour care.

“I have to risk losing my job for being a responsible grandson,” Rodriguez said. “[Prospect’s policy] needs to be reworked to make sure it’s fairer for everyone. Not just for me taking care of my grandma, but other people who are parents or guardians.”

The workers will likely seek to join SEIU Local 1. Since September 2015, Local 1 has led the efforts that resulted in this week’s ordinance, as part of SEIU’s national Airport Workers United and Fight for $15 campaigns.

“Even though we won this ordinance, this fight is not over,” Rodriguez insisted. “We’re going to keep fighting for what needs to be done. Once we finally get this union and get this contract, then I could say we finally had our voice heard.”

Read the full story, including interviews with airport workers, over at In These Times!

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Chicago Airport Workers Cheer Passage Of City Ordinance For Union Rights, Higher Wages At O’Hare, Midway

Chicago Airport Workers Cheer Passage Of City Ordinance For Union Rights, Higher Wages At O’Hare, Midway

Measure marks huge step forward in Chicago airport workers’ fight for $15 and a union

CHICAGO – In a major win for Chicago airport workers, the City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday that will soon give nearly 8,000 O’Hare and Midway airport workers a raise to $13.45 an hour and the right to join a union.

The ordinance requires labor peace agreements between O’Hare and Midway ground handling operators and labor unions representing or seeking to represent their employees.

Passage of this important ordinance, backed by SEIU Local 1 and proposed in July by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and numerous aldermen, marks a major step forward in Chicago airport workers’ fight for $15 and union rights.

A diverse coalition of community and elected leaders, including Black Caucus Chair Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Progressive Caucus Chair Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), Latino Caucus Chair Gilbert Villegas (36th), Ald. Susan Sadlowski-Garza (10th), Ald. Patrick Thompson (11th), Ald. Toni Foulkes (16th), Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd), Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and Ald. John Arena (45th), stood with dozens of airport workers before today’s City Council meeting to rally behind the ordinance.

“Airport workers thank our City Council supporters for unanimously approving this ordinance,” said Oliwia Pac, who works for Prospect as a wheelchair attendant at O’Hare. “After two years of tireless organizing, protesting and striking, it feels great to be moving forward in our fight for $15 and a union.”

“The measure will help me and my coworkers build a better future for ourselves and our families,” Pac added. “In turn, our airports will see less worker turnover. That means better service and safety at our airports.”

“This ordinance is good public policy that will improve safety at our airports. It’s a win-win-win-win for airport workers, passengers, the city and the airlines,” said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. “It’s going to start a process to make a better life for the workers here and make a safer, cleaner, more convenient airport for the passengers and help Chicago start to lift up all of our communities.”

“Labor peace is important for the value of the gates at our airports, making it important for those who operate, work in and travel through them,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer. “This ordinance is so crucial for the workers, airlines, city and passengers.”

Most airport workers, nearly half of whom are aged 40 or older, make minimum wage or less, and many depend on public assistance to afford basic necessities, including food, rent and healthcare.

Since launching their campaign two years ago for $15 and a union, Chicago airport workers—who are seeking to join SEIU Local 1—have filed wage theft and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) violation complaints at the local and federal level and have gone on strike repeatedly over unfair labor practices.

Fifteen dollars and union rights for airport workers would not only boost our communities and economy, it would reduce turnover, increase quality and improve the customer experience at a time when the airlines need it most.


Around the country, airport workers are coming together in Airport Workers United, a movement of workers and their allies, raising their voices to make our airports safe and secure for passengers, employees and our communities. Last year, airport workers served an all-time high of 932 million passengers. By sticking together and speaking out, more than 110,000 airport workers across the country have won wage increases or other improvements, including healthcare, and paid sick leave. We have won wage increases in Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Newark, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Nearly 22,000 airport workers have won a union with SEIU.

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$13.45-an-hour wage cleared for takeoff at O’Hare, Midway airports

Oliwia Pac is in line for a $2.45-an-hour pay raise, but she feels like she won the lottery.

On Wednesday, the City Council guaranteed Pac and nearly 8,000 other contract employees at O’Hare and Midway Airports a pay floor of “no less than” $13.45-an-hour and secured their right to join unions.

“This raise means that I can finally afford my rent, get groceries, not have a hassle trying to pay off my student loans,” said Pac, who helps passengers in wheelchairs, escorts children traveling alone onto flights and works security at O’Hare Airport.

“It could be better. But this is a very big step that has occurred for us as airport workers. I’m just beyond ecstatic. We’re slowly but surely winning.”

Higher pay is not the only benefit for contract employees at O’Hare and Midway. The ordinance unanimously approved Wednesday also includes a “labor peace agreement” allowing baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, aircraft maintenance workers, security guards and other contract employees to organize without interference.

In exchange, contract employees would be prohibited from “engaging in strikes, picketing, work stoppages, boycotts or other economic interference.”

Pac said she has little doubt she and her co-workers will vote overwhelmingly to join a union.

“They’re the ones that are gonna help us be able to make proper wages, getting proper benefits, being able to get respect,” she said. “We have to report our tips. If we don’t report our tips enough, we are threatened with suspensions and terminations. There’s a lot of under-staffing. We have to break our backs by assisting two wheelchair passengers at once.”

Last month, Emanuel followed through on his promise to tie licenses for airport contractors to a “labor peace agreement.”

But the mayor’s ordinance goes beyond preserving the right to unionize. It requires those airline contractors and sub-contractors to pay their employees no less than $13.45-an-hour beginning on July 1, 2018, with annual cost-of-living increases after that. Employees whose wages include gratuities must be paid $1-an-hour more than the $5.95-an-hour minimum wage for tipped employees.

Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1, called the mayor’s ordinance one of the biggest victories for organized labor to come along in years.

SEIU Local 1 is among a group of investors that recently purchased the Sun-Times. The union has been attempting to organize contract employees at O’Hare.

Balanoff said he has no doubt that most, if not all of the 8,000 workers will choose to join unions, including his.

Airlines for America has argued that there is “no legal or policy justification for imposing a higher minimum wage on a few thousand workers who provide services to one industry at two locations” and the city’s “status as an airport operator/proprietor does not give it authority to regulate private labor relations.”

But Deputy Corporation Counsel Diane Pezanoski has assured aldermen the ordinance is on solid legal ground because it “comes pretty much directly from a licensing and training program in Los Angeles” that was challenged unsuccessfully by the airlines and service providers at Los Angeles International Airport.

Check out the full story over at The Chicago Sun-Times!

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City Council approves law boosting pay, easing unionization for airport workers

The Chicago City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday that will give airport baggage handlers, janitors and other contracted workers a pay bump and make it easier for them to form a union.

The law, expected to affect 8,000 workers, requires airline subcontractors to abide by certain labor standards in order to receive a license to operate at O’Hare and Midway airports.

Starting July 1 of next year, companies must pay workers at least $13.45 an hour and establish labor peace agreements with any union trying to organize the workers. That means the union agrees not to strike or protest and the employer agrees not to resist the organizing efforts, which historically has led to more successful union elections.

Tipped workers, such as wheelchair attendants, must be paid $1 more than Chicago’s tipped minimum wage.

Airlines for America, an advocacy group for the airlines that hire many of the subcontractors, opposed the measure. It argued that the measure violates federal labor law by forcing a private employer into an agreement with a union that employees have not yet elected to join and that certain industries shouldn’t be subject to a higher minimum wage.

The ordinance, which was introduced in late July by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and backed by members of the Black, Latino and Progressive caucuses, is modeled after a similar law in Los Angeles that requires labor peace agreements and has so far survived a legal challenge.

The passage of the measure comes after a two-year campaign by the Service Employees International Union to highlight the pay and working conditions of Chicago’s nonunionized airport workers, who it seeks to add to its member rolls.

“It’s a win-win-win-win for airport workers, passengers, the city and the airlines,” said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff, whose union organized several protests and strikes to pressure lawmakers. “It’s going to start a process to make a better life for the workers here and make a safer, cleaner, more convenient airport for the passengers and help Chicago start to lift up all of our communities.”

The law covers baggage handlers, aircraft cabin cleaners, janitors, security officers, ticket-takers, de-icers and wheelchair attendants, among other workers.

Be sure to check out the full story over at the Chicago Tribune!

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Chicago set to raise airport workers’ pay, clear path to a union

Edith Alvarenga has spent the past 12 years picking up trash, sweeping up crumbs and mopping up spills — and occasional bodily fluids — that passengers leave behind on airplanes. And she loves it.

She loves that nearly everyone at O’Hare Airport knows her. She loves helping passengers, especially Spanish-speaking travelers, when they aren’t sure where to go. She loves seeing people arriving and departing, which makes her feel like she is traveling herself.

What Alvarenga says she doesn’t love about her job as a cabin cleaner in Terminal 3 is that she gets no benefits, that her $11.50 hourly wage is barely enough to make ends meet and that workers are sometimes treated unfairly.

So she is excited for Wednesday, when the Chicago City Council is expected to approve an ordinance that would boost the wages of O’Hare and Midway airport workers and clear the path for them to unionize.

“When we don’t like something, the best thing is to fight to make it better,” Alvarenga, a native of El Salvador, said in Spanish. “I like the work and I want to make this job better.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the ordinance in late July after a two-year campaign by the Service Employees International Union to hold the city accountable for the pay and working conditions of airline subcontractors, part of a national push by the union as it seeks to add airport workers to its rolls.

Chicago’s ordinance makes labor standards part of the requirements for obtaining a license to provide services at O’Hare and Midway airports. It covers nearly 8,000 workers employed by contractors hired by the airlines, including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors, security officers, ticket-takers, de-icers and wheelchair attendants.

The ordinance states licensed contractors must pay workers at least $13.45 an hour starting next July 1, and raise the wage in proportion to the consumer price index every subsequent year. That gives them a leg up over Chicago’s minimum wage, which recently was raised to $11 an hour as the city gradually steps toward $13 by 2019.

Tipped workers like wheelchair attendants would get $1 more than the city’s tipped minimum wage, which currently is $5.95.

Contractors also would have to establish “labor peace agreements” with any union that asks, which means that the union would agree not to picket or call strikes and the company would agree not to resist organizing efforts. Such agreements don’t require an employer to recognize a union or enter into a collective bargaining agreement, but they can smooth the path to a union election.

“It certainly makes it easier to organize workers if they aren’t feeling threatened,” said Izabela Miltko-Ivkovich, spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1, which was behind several strikes and protests at O’Hare over the last two years.

The ordinance is opposed by Airlines for America, an airline advocacy group that counts United and American Airlines among its members. In a letter to Chicago’s Department of Aviation, the group argued that the labor peace provision violates federal labor law and is “ambiguous, internally inconsistent, and provides virtually no guidance regarding implementation.” In addition, “there is no policy or economic justification for establishing a separate minimum wage for just one small group of private sector employees working for one industry at two locations in the city.”

Other airports abide by airport-specific compensation requirements, including San Francisco; Seattle; Minneapolis; LaGuardia and JFK in New York; and Newark, N.J. Chicago modeled its ordinance after Los Angeles’ airport law, which contains a labor peace provision, because it withstood a legal challenge, SEIU said.

“This is about ensuring the highest standard and most efficient operations at Midway and O’Hare,” the mayor’s office said in a statement Thursday.

It is also about politics as SEIU, the massive union behind the Fight for $15 campaign, appeals to elected officials to advance worker interests and reach the growing segment of low-wage workers it would like to convert into members.

“They are using political maneuvering to gain access to a new labor market,” said Bob Bruno, labor professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. SEIU says 110,000 airport workers have won raises since it began its national airport campaign in 2012, and 22,000 have joined an SEIU union.

Emanuel’s ordinance came as another proposal to lift wages for airport workers, introduced in January, stalled in committee. Ald. Ameya Pawar, 47th, in late June threatened to invoke a rule that would force that ordinance to the full Council for a vote, where he believed it had enough support to pass even without the mayor’s blessing. The next day SEIU issued a press release announcing it was having positive discussions with the mayor’s administration and Ald. Patrick O’Connor, 40th, chairman of the Workforce Development and Audit Committee, on legislation.

The Workforce and Aviation committees approved the mayor’s ordinance swiftly last week.

Pawar, a Democratic candidate for governor, said the issue is personal to him. His first internship while in graduate school involved working with refugees, many of whom worked at the airport, and he heard from them about low pay and alleged abuses such as wage theft.

“I told myself that if I was ever in a position to do something about this, I would,” said Pawar, who last year supported the union as it announced it had filed 80 complaints accusing O’Hare airport contractors of more than $1 million in wage theft, which can occur when people work off the clock or when employers don’t compensate tipped employees whose gratuities don’t get them to standard minimum wage.

“I believe, once this passes, that this will be one of the greatest victories for airport workers in the country,” Pawar said.

If workers unionize and are able to bargain for health benefits, paid leave, performance bonuses and other improvements, it would be a boon to an economy that has seen a decline in decent-paying middle-class jobs, Bruno said.

“They represent the growing sector of our economy, and something has to happen to lift them into the middle class,” he said. “If these workers don’t become middle class, then we will continue to see sluggish growth, we will see wages flatten out, we will have a seriously hollowed-out economy.”

Many airport jobs used to fetch decent middle-class wages and benefits, but that started to change in the 1980s and ’90s as airlines started to outsource the jobs to third-party contractors that paid the lowest wage people were willing to take, said Robert Mann, an airline industry consultant based in New York.

The change was driven by industry deregulation, competitive pressure from low-cost airlines and other economic shocks that prompted airlines to cut costs, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks and airline restructurings, Mann said. Between 2002 and 2012, the outsourcing of baggage porter jobs more than tripled, while hourly wages declined by 45 percent, from $19 to $10.60 (in 2012 dollars), according to a report from the Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California at Berkeley.

But while contracting out the work saves airlines money, it also leads to higher turnover and service gaps, Mann said.

“If you try to work the ramp in Chicago in the winter, it’s cold, it’s windy, it’s dangerous, especially at night,” he said. “If you have the opportunity to earn money indoors, you take that.”

Alvarenga, the cabin cleaner at O’Hare, said she joined the SEIU effort because her loyalty was not met with the respect she felt she had earned.

Alvarenga, 42, came to Chicago on a fiance visa in 2005 to join her now-husband, Saturnino, who had been her childhood neighbor in El Salvador. She got the job cleaning airplanes that same year after seeing an ad in the newspaper.

She started at minimum wage but earned a 25-cent raise each year, and was making $9.50 an hour when a new cleaning contractor took over in 2010. The new contractor, Prospect Airport Services, told the workers their wages would be reduced to $9, and that if they didn’t want it they could quit, she said. Most people stayed, she said, because they needed the paycheck and worried they might not find something else.

“It made me furious,” Alvarenga said, noting that her wage has risen to $11.50 not because of raises, but because the city raised its minimum wage.

Des Plaines-based Prospect Airport Services did not respond to a request for comment.

“I think what we need most is a union that sees the injustices and stops the abuses, more than anything against the Hispanics,” Alvarenga said, “because the Hispanics are those that are most discriminated against, and if they don’t speak English it’s worse.”

As she sat in her living room on Chicago’s Northwest Side, Alvarenga said she has dreamed of what she will do with the higher wage once the city approves the ordinance. She and her husband live with two of their three children and a yappy Chihuahua mix named Pepito in a tidy home on an otherwise industrial street, beside a parking lot for city garbage trucks.

Her first priority is to establish a savings account for her new baby, due to arrive this month, and help her other three other children — aged 21, 18 and 16 — go to good colleges.

“That’s the best inheritance I can give them, so they can get a career that allows them to support themselves,” she said.

She also wants to get on an airplane herself and take a vacation for the first time in four years. She plans to go to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

Check out the full story over at The Chicago Tribune!

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