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Ald. Ervin, Unite Here Local 1 Want Living Wages for Airport Concession Workers

Concourse a at O'Hare Field.Image by Reznicek111 via Flickr


A new ordinance would require concession contractors at O’Hare and Midway International Airports to pay their employees more and close a loophole that allows thousands of concessions workers to be paid less than a ‘living wage,’ if Ald. Jason Ervin (28th), lead sponsor of the ordinance, has his way.

The Stable Jobs, Stable Airports Ordinance was introduced to the Chicago City Council Wednesday, and goes to the Committee on Workforce and Development next to be considered for a vote, said Pat Murphy, spokeswoman for the Chicago’s City Clerk office.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, aldermen and more than 200 concession workers from O’Hare and Midway held a press conference at City Hall in support of the ordinance.

The last thing the city needs is another set of unemployed workers, Ervin said at the press conference.

“A magazine attendant from Morgan Park or even someone that’s a waiter from the West Side of Chicago all deserve to have this loophole closed, so we can have a living wage for all of our residents here in the city of Chicago,” Ervin said.

Chicago adopted the Chicago Jobs and Living Wage Ordinance in 1998, which ensures that employees of city contractors receive a minimum wage that keeps them out of poverty. That living wage is $11.18 per hour, according to a press release from Unite Here Local 1.

Thousands of concessions workers at O’Hare and Midway International Airports are excluded from the living wage ordinance, according to the Stable Jobs, Stable Airports Ordinance.

The city finds that concessions workers should not be carved out of the minimum wage requirements applying to other city contracts, according to the ordinance.

Henry Tamarin, president of Unite Here Local 1 -the hospitality union that represents concession workers at O’Hare and Midway-said Chicago is moving forward with concession developments at both airports that threatens to throw as many as 1,500 airport concession employees out of work.

Airport business workers bring in around $400 million a year in revenue, Tamarin said

“When the city cuts multi-million dollar deals that throw Chicago residents out of work, or with poverty wage jobs, Chicago communities suffer,” Tamarin said in remarks before the council meeting.

Eighteen other airports in the country–including Los Angeles, John F. Kennedy, Miami and Cleveland Hopkins International, among others–have adopted living wage standards for concession workers, according to a press release from Ald. Ervin’s office.

“If Cleveland, no disrespect to Cleveland, can do what’s right for their employees, for their citizens, we can do better,” said Ald. John Pope (10th) in remarks before the meeting.

Jerry Ward, a 9th Ward resident, said he has worked as a sales associate for HDS Relay at Midway for five years. He said he is proud of his job, but struggles to support his family at $10 an hour, or $19,000 a year.

“There are sandwiches being made at the airport that cost more than the wage I make an hour,” he said before the meeting.

Ald. JoAnn Thompson (16th) also said she supports the proposed ordinance at the press conference.

“You’re not here asking for a handout, you’re asking to be paid fairly for the work that you do,” she said.

Ervin’s spokesperson TyJuan Cratic said 31 aldermen support the ordinance.

No alderman is “100 percent opposed” to the proposal, but Cratic said, there are some aldermen that have concerns with the ordinance. He could not provide further information, because the ordinance is still being discussed.

“We are still working on it with all the aldermen,” he said.

Tom Alexander, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s assistant press secretary, said Emmanuel has not yet taken a position on the introduced ordinance.

The Chicago Department of Aviation would not comment by deadline.

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