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Opinion: Airport workers deserve a better deal

An American Airlines plane prepares to land from the east beyond a street light at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago Thursday, July 16, 2015. | Tim Boyle/For Sun-Times Media

An American Airlines plane prepares to land from the east beyond a street light at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago Thursday, July 16, 2015. | Tim Boyle/For Sun-Times Media

The people who clean the airplanes we fly, scrub the airport restrooms we use, and do the heavy lifting to get us from place to place can be almost invisible. You might not meet them, but you’ll notice if their jobs are not done. They are the janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants — and the lowest-paid workers at the 2nd busiest airport in the United States

Thousands of people work in low-paying, manual jobs at O’Hare Airport. These used to be good jobs with good wages, the workers directly employed by American or United Airlines. But now, thanks to subcontracting by the airlines, few of these jobs offer a true livable wage or affordable health benefits.

Passenger and aviation services at O’Hare are provided by companies that contract with the airlines or the City of Chicago Department of Aviation. The workers who take these jobs often are parents who support full households. In fact, the median age is 40 years old; these are not young people looking for their first part-time job.

We have heard stories of the workers being cheated by employers, denied wages they have rightfully earned and fired for attending union meetings. The legal claims they have filed are piling up, but often go ignored by our own city government. Workers have also filed safety violations with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with no response.

Read the full piece by Chicago Alderman Roderick T. Sawyer and Alderman Sue Sadlowski Garza over at the Chicago Sun-Times.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: SEIU Local 1 Member and SLU professor Jameson Ramirez on the Passage of SB19

SEIU Local 1 Member and SLU professor Jameson Ramirez on the Passage of SB19

ST. LOUIS– The following is a statement from SEIU Local 1 member and Saint Louis University higher education faculty member Jameson Ramirez: 

“Last year, higher education faculty at Saint Louis University joined together to fight for a voice on the job and a seat at the table. Higher education faculty in St. Louis show that when we are united under a common cause and organize for a better future, we win.

“But so-called Right to Work makes it more difficult for working people to make themselves heard.  This proposed legislation essentially extends a false hand of opportunity to workers while strangling their real opportunities with the other hand. It will lower wages, slash benefits, and put a secure retirement out of reach for thousands of hardworking Missouri families. The simple fact is Right to Work means less money in my pocket every month – median incomes in Right to Work states are thousands less than in those without it.

“We hope Governor Greitens shows that he is truly fighting for the working people of Missouri and vetoes this harmful bill. If not, we’ll know he caved to the special interests, billionaire donors and big corporations that bankrolled his campaign.”

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SEIU Local 1 represents over 8,000 janitors, higher education faculty, public sector workers, school custodians and industrial workers across Missouri. Together, SEIU Local 1 members fight an economy that works for all working families, not just the wealthy and well-connected. 

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Emanuel should move to protect airport workers from exploitation

Thousand of protesters hold signs that read "Airport and Fast Food Works Rising for $15 And A Union" on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, where employees protest and strike demanding the right to form a Union and raise the minimum wage to $15.

Thousand of protesters hold signs that read “Airport and Fast Food Works Rising for $15 And A Union” on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, where employees protest and strike demanding the right to form a Union and raise the minimum wage to $15.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel positions himself as a defender of the rights of immigrants, he’s refusing to back protections for low-wage workers at the city’s two airports, many of whom are immigrants and refugees.

And while the city spends billions of dollars – including huge contracts for political insiders – to upgrade its airports, which are depicted as “economic engines” driving local prosperity, thousands of workers who make that engine run are left in poverty and insecurity.

Last week, leaders of the City Council’s Black, Latino, and Progressive caucuses introduced an ordinance that would require contractors for ground services at O’Hare and Midway to pay wages and benefits comparable to those offered by building managers in the region. The ordinance would cover about 8,000 custodians, security officers, plane-cleaning crews, baggage handlers and wheelchair assistants.

It would also require contractors to sign labor peace agreements with unions seeking to represent their workers.  Such agreements bar retaliation against workers who seek to organize; they also prohibit workers from striking, picketing, or otherwise interfering with operations.

Currently, airport workers earn the minimum wage of $10.50 per hour, or not much higher, with no benefits. Wheelchair assistants get the tipped minimum wage, now $5.95 per hour, far below the city’s minimum.  “These aren’t high school students,” said Ald. Susan Garza (10th Ward), a sponsor of the ordinance.  “These are mothers and fathers trying to support their families.”

On top of that, they are subject to widespread wage violations and are often fired if they speak up – largely because many of them are immigrants and refugees, advocates say.

Large numbers of the lowest-paid airport workers are refugees referred to contractors by refugee settlement groups, said Izabela Miltko of Service Employees International Union Local 1, which has advocated for airport workers.

Real the full story over at the Chicago Reporter!

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Right to Work bill heads to governor’s desk

635586855870111919-missouri-capitol-by-rick-meyer_174730_ver1.0JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri lawmakers have sent the state’s new Republican governor a bill that would ban mandatory union fees.

House members on Thursday took a final vote on the so-called right-to-work bill.

Gov. Eric Greitens has promised to sign the bill. His Democratic predecessor, Gov. Jay Nixon, vetoed right to work in 2015.

If Greitens signs the bill, Missouri will become the 28th right-to-work state.

Seven of the eight states that surround Missouri already have right-to-work laws, including Kentucky where it passed last month. New Hampshire lawmakers are considering a similar proposal.

Reactions from politicians and organizations across the state has been mixed.

“Missouri has lagged in job creation and economic growth. Today we took a big step toward turning that around,” said State Senator Bob Onder (R-St. Charles County).

He added, “Right to Work will really send a signal to all of our country that Missouri is open for business, That we’re open to opportunity, economic development, and economic freedom.”

“We believe this is an overreach by government, to go after working people,” said Jeff Aboussie, a labor lobbyist for the Operating Engineers Union for the state of Missouri.

“The uncertainty is there and [the union members] have no idea what’s coming or what to expect or how its going to change their lives and their families lives.”

Statement from SEIU Local 1 member and SLU professor Jameson Ramirez:

“We hope Governor Greitens shows that he is truly fighting for the working people of Missouri and vetoes this harmful bill. If not, we’ll know he caved to the special interests, billionaire donors and big corporations that bankrolled his campaign.”

Read the full story over at KSDK.

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Will the Trump Administration Make It Easier for Employers to Steal from Workers?

1484322693668-AP_17012722454013Andy Puzder, Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary, comes from an industry where wage theft is troublingly common.

For nearly four years, Oliwia Pac has been working at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, assisting wheelchair users and unaccompanied minors and sometimes providing security services for the airlines. When it comes time to get her paycheck every two weeks, she always worries about what she’ll find. Over the years, she says, the company she works for has often played with her timesheets. For example, if she works overtime at security, a job that pays a base rate of $11.50, she says she’ll find the hours listed under her wheelchair assistant position—which, because it’s a tipped position, pays only $8.75.

When that kind of thing happens, says Pac, who is also an activist with Fight for $15, her managers make excuses. “I heard recently a co-worker who was supposed to be getting 30 hours of overtime didn’t see any of that money,” she told me.

Allegations of wage theft were widespread last year at O’Hare, and airport workers went on strike to protest low pay in November. But the sorts of abuses reported by Pac and her co-workers are common throughout the country—and the Trump administration is unlikely to do much about it.

Read the full story over at VICE!

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ABC 20/20 Special: My Reality: A Hidden America

ABC 20/20 featured a segment called ‘“My Reality: A Hidden America,’ which focused on low-wage workers, including two SEIU Local 1 higher education faculty members, who are often overlooked in today’s economy. In the episode, Diane Sawyer shadowed workers around the country as they went about their day-to-day routine.

Click here to watch the video and check out the 20/20 segment, which features Local 1 higher ed faculty members at Washington University, as well as Terrence Wise, a Kansas City fast food worker and Stand Up KC Fight for $15 activist.

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Refugees Who Fled Horrors Now Face Different Struggle In Chicago

extralargeWEST RIDGE — A Rohingya refugee who immigrated to the U.S. two years ago from war-torn Myanmar hoped he would find opportunity and a second chance by settling in Chicago, with a job at O’Hare. Instead, Amir Hussin Bin Mohamadur Rahman has found himself at the center of a workers rights struggle unfolding within Chicago’s labor force.

Rahman, 25, got a job shortly after his arrival in June 2015 with Scrub, Inc., a company that employs workers who clean the cabins of planes after flights.

That relationship ended in late November after Rahman publicly rallied alongside Service Employees International Union members and other airport workers in a one-day strike with the “Fight For $15” minimum wage campaign.

Rahman also spoke out at an employee meeting advocating for Scrub, Inc. workers to unionize, an act he alleges led to his firing.

“The day that he [stood] up in the meeting, talking about ‘Fight For $15’, saying he wants to go on strike, things changed,” said Wahida Rafiq, a translator who Rahman and another Scrub, Inc. worker spoke through in an interview with DNAinfo.

Read the full story over at DNA Info!

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Kansas City Public Schools janitors vote to join union

KCPS janitorJanitors who work in Kansas City Public Schools have voted to join a union.

The union vote came earlier this month, when 90 custodians elected to join the Service Employees International Union Local 1, which represents more than 300 workers in the district.

The custodians work for the Marcis & Associates janitorial services firm, which earlier this year won a $10 million, three-year contract with the school district.

Union members had supported the district’s decision to give the contract to a new company, saying the previous firm did not recognize union workers and that schools had seen a decline in cleanliness amid understaffing.

Velma Chapman, a custodian at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, said in a statement from the union that the custodians will be better able to care for the schools as members of SEIU Local 1.

“My coworkers and I came together on the job so we could have a voice in keeping KCPS as clean and healthy as possible,” Chapman said.

Read the full story over at the Kansas City Star!

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Columbus janitors ratify new union contract, move toward a living wage

Oct 29It seems that the cleaning companies who employ janitors in Columbus have awakened to a new reality: they are dealing with a fighting union. On December 3 about 750 Columbus janitors ratified a new 3-year contract. Negotiations were concluded much more swiftly than for the previous contract, and the janitors’ employers made significant concessions.

The janitors, who are members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, will receive between $2000 and $3000 more in wages per year over the life of the contract. The contract also strengthens protections for members, including discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity. It also adds funeral leave for the first time.

The cleaning companies probably didn’t want a repeat of 2013, when the janitors organized numerous protests, held rolling strikes in downtown Columbus office buildings, and were arrested during sit-ins at Fifth Third Bank and PNC Bank.

“This contract will allow janitors, who perform difficult and thankless work, the ability to provide for their families and their communities,” said SEIU Local 1 member Diane Hudson. “The increase in pay is significant and that will make a huge difference in my life. As someone who is caring for an aging parent, time is very important to me, but so is knowing that I can afford to pay my bills. The increased wages will allow me to spend more time caring for my mother and doing things with my family.”

Read the full story over at the Columbus Free Press!

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: SEIU Local 1 Metro Security Officers Approve Contract to Invest in Chicagoland Communities

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 18, 2017

SEIU Local 1 Metro Security Officers Approve Contract to Invest in Chicagoland Communities

Metropolitan Security Officers approve contract agreement for more than 7,000 Chicagoland officers

CHICAGO—Metropolitan Security Officers have negotiated and ratified a new three-year contract that will help families invest in their communities and help in creating a better Chicago. While Chicago’s Metro Security Officers protect high-profile sites like University of Chicago, the Chicago Housing Authority, United Airlines in the Willis Tower, and Maggie Daley Park, many officers reside in Chicago’s roughest neighborhoods.

“When contractors in Chicago invest in families, our children and our communities benefit,” said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. “By standing together, Metropolitan Security Officers won a great contract that will benefit Chicagoland for years to come.”

The security officers approved a new union contract with important wage increases while also maintaining health care benefits and more.

More than 7,000 working families will benefit from this historical contract. Together, the officers will bring approximately $25 million into their communities over the three year period, pumping much needed resources into our city’s struggling neighborhoods.

“By sticking together, Metro Security Officers won good raises as well as better benefits,” said Maggie Daley Park Security Officer Idris Amao. “This will give us more opportunities to invest in our communities.”

The new three-year Metro Security Officers’ contract, which goes into effect on January 1, 2017, guarantees:

  • Strengthen health insurance for members while increasing coverage for all officers under agreement
  • Greatly increase wages of officers allowing them to better provide for their families
  • Improve sick leave benefits for officers that allow them to take paid sick leave when they or a member of their family is sick and then need to miss work

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

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