Mayor Rahm Emanuel is facing a City Council showdown on a long-stalled airport living wage ordinance.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), a Democratic candidate for governor, has filed a notice with the city’s clerk’s office declaring his intention to try next week to discharge the ordinance from the Committee on Workforce Development.
Any ordinance held in committee for more than 60 days can be “discharged” and moved to the floor with a simple majority of 26 votes, the same number of votes needed to approve the ordinance.
With 24 co-sponsors as a starting point, Pawar believes he has the votes to force the issue — even without Emanuel’s support.
In fact, he threw in a warning for the mayor, who has so far resisted political pressure to make higher pay and benefits for employees of airline subcontractors a condition of new master lease agreements with United, American and other major airlines.
“If we don’t have a resolution on airport employees — these contractors — I’m not gonna vote for any lease agreement for the airlines and I don’t believe the mayor has the votes,” Pawar said.
“We can have a conversation about expanding the airport and doing right by the airlines and making sure they make as much money as they need to make to stay viable. But when we’re talking about just a few thousand people and, at most, 50 cents a ticket to give these folks a living wage, the airlines are ducking. And the mayor’s office isn’t talking.”
Aviation Department spokeswoman Lauren Huffman had no immediate comment on Pawar’s ultimatum. Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), the Workforce Development Committee Chairman who also serves as Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, could not be reached.
In an emailed statement, Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans did not address the stalled ordinance or Pawar’s threat to block Council approval of new airline use agreements.
Instead, she said she is “working on a plan to secure O’Hare’s future through a much-needed expansion and capital improvements — which will in turn support tens of thousands of new jobs over the next decade.”
“And while we remain committed to supporting fair pay and working conditions for all airport employees, including several reforms by Mayor Emanuel to raise the minimum wage and provide paid sick leave to more than a half million workers in Chicago, we have been clear that we won’t discuss airline negotiations in public,” Evans was quoted as saying.
Organized labor’s City Council allies and unions seeking to represent airport workers have held a series of O’Hare protests to press their pay demands and claim $1.2 million in “wage theft” from hundreds of airport employees.
The alleged “theft” by private contractors includes everything from failing to make up the difference for tipped employees whose gratuities leave them short of the city’s minimum wage to failing to pay employees who work through their lunch breaks and before and after their regular shifts.
United Maintenance Co. Inc., a clout-heavy janitorial contractor nearing the end of a five-year O’Hare deal, has lent credence to the wage theft claims by agreeing last year to shell out nearly $850,000 to settle a federal wage-theft lawsuit brought by its O’Hare employees.
The stalled ordinance does not mandate those terms for airport contract employees — including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, aircraft maintenance workers and security guards.
It simply states that, “Any Ground Handling Service provider shall require that any service contractor it retains to provide ground Handling Services at the airports shall agree to the payment of wages that are no less and health and welfare and fringe benefits and working conditions are no less favorable than those prevailing in the locality as set forth by the Building Owners and Managers Association.”
The ordinance further requires that companies awarded “ground handling service contracts” with the city or the airlines shall either “be party to a collective bargaining agreement” that prohibits those workers from “engaging in strikes, picketing, work stoppages, boycotts or other economic interference” or “enter into and comply with” such a “labor peace agreement” with unions representing or seeking to represent those workers.
“It doesn’t say which union. It doesn’t say what the parameters of the union contract would have to be. All it says it that there is labor peace and that these workers have a right to organize and that airlines and contractors will not impede any efforts to organize,” Pawar said Tuesday.
The alderman denied that he was forcing the issue to bolster his populist campaign for governor in a crowded field that includes another populist candidate, State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston).
“When I went through graduate school for social work, my first internship was working with refugees who worked for these contractors. I saw the terrible conditions they worked in. I saw how they were treated. This is something that, for me personally, dates back to 2008,” he said.
Pawar is not alone in his demands on airport pay.
The City Council’s Black Caucus has declared its opposition to giving United Airlines control over concessions and contracts at its O’Hare terminal in retaliation for what aldermen called the airline’s indifference to allegations of wage theft at O’Hare.