Recent airport firings spark debate about multi-million dollar city contract deals
At an ad-hoc hearing yesterday on O’Hare and Midway Airport concession deals and the proposed Stable Jobs Stable Airports Ordinance called by Chicago Alderman Jason C Ervin (28th Ward), Chicago Aldermen heard from airport concession employees concerned they may be tossed out as the City of Chicago hands out lucrative contracts covering most of the concessions at O’Hare and Midway Airports as well as from policy experts who noted the Stable Jobs Stable Airports Ordinance, sponsored by Ervin and thirty-one other Aldermen and modeled on policies adopted by other airports, could generate as much as $8 million a year for Chicago.
“We are there to take care of travelers. My customers aren’t just customers, they’re people. They may be parents like me who are away from their families and I want to help them the way I’d want to be helped if I were away from my family,” said Marivel Rivas, a food service worker who lives in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. “We are taxpayers and voters and we work hard to make the airports great. We want the alderman to have our back, protect our jobs and respect what we are worth,” added Jerry Ward, a retail worker at Midway Airport.
The City of Chicago’s Department of Aviation is undertaking the largest turnover of airport concessions contracts in the Chicago’s history – handing out lucrative contracts worth more than $250 million a year and putting the jobs of 1,500 Chicagoans who work in O’Hare and Midway concessions at risk. Fears were confirmed in January when the majority of existing retail workers in the O’Hare International Terminal (T5) were tossed out of work as a new contractor took over under the controversial 20-year International Terminal contract.
“The airport wants to abandon us but the City of Chicago can do better. I am asking the City of Chicago to respect the work I have done these 12 years and pass this ordinance that would have allowed me to keep my job.” said Margaret Shields, a retail employee with twelve years experience at O’Hare who was recently fired when a new contractor took over at the O’Hare International Terminal. Shields and others spoke in support of the Stable Jobs Stable Airports Ordinance, which calls on contractors seeking business at Chicago’s airports to ensure job stability, living wages, and labor peace.
“What the Stable Jobs Stable Airports ordinance does is something that has been done in many other cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland and more. What it does is ensures that the most valuable part of the airport - the people who work there - will always be there. It means that Chicago wants to invest in us, invest in our families and invest in our neighborhoods by supporting good jobs.,” said Jesus Valle, a 32-year employee at O’Hare Airport.
Dr. William Sites, a professor at the University of Chicago who was part of a team that released a study of the ordinance last November, echoed this point, noting the economic benefits for Chicago communities. “Our study concludes that a living wage regulation covering all concessions workers at O’Hare and Midway airports would deliver substantial benefits to the workers themselves and to the Chicago economy at very little cost to airport consumers and concessionaires,” said Dr. Sites.
"This fight is about equity,” Alderman Ervin concluded. “The Stable Jobs ordinance will level the playing field for the residents of this City who go to work everyday to provide for their families. We won't allow anyone to take advantage of our residents; that's not what Chicago stands for and it never will."
Alderman Ervin called the hearing after the City Council’s Workforce Development and Audit Committee, which is considering the Stable Jobs Stable Airports Ordinance, abruptly cancelled the hearing it had set for the same time. The Workforce Development and Audit Committee has not met since September 2011.