O’Hare workers won’t strike over holiday weekend

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Airport worker Raquel Brito (left) says the employees fighting for a fair wage did not want to inconvenience travelers over the long holiday weekend. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Workers at O’Hare International Airport have decided to hold off on going on strike until after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Instead, hundreds of workers who handle baggage, push wheelchairs and clean airplanes and airport terminals will begin their strike next Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Their end goal is to join a union and receive a $15 minimum wage.

More than 500 workers voted to walk off the job, Raquel Brito, a baggage handler speaking on behalf of the workers, said at a news conference at O’Hare Monday morning.

“O’Hare Airport workers often can’t afford a proper Thanksgiving dinner, and [we] know what it’s like to miss Thanksgiving with our families,” she said.

“However, we respect families traveling to be together and that is why we are holding off our strike until after the Thanksgiving holiday.”

The workers are employed by three main subcontractors — Prospect Airport Services, Scrub Inc. and Air Serv — which have contracts with United and American Airlines.

The workers want to join to join the Service Employees International Union.

Izabela Miltko-Ivokonoch said even a delayed strike will still inconvenience passengers. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

Izabela Miltko-Ivokonoch said even a delayed strike will still inconvenience passengers. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

“It is their intent to bring light to these conditions that they work under,” said SEIU spokeswoman said Izabela Miltko-Ivkovich, noting that the workers lack health benefits.

There is a difference of opinion on whether a strike will result in passenger delays.

The Chicago Department of Aviation, in a statement issued Monday morning, said officials there do “not anticipate any disruption in service at Chicago’s airports due to this development.”

The statement continued: “The CDA remains committed to maintaining a work environment that is safe and healthy for employees and expects the same commitment from its contractors and partners.”

United Airlines spokesman Luke Punzenberger said the carrier is “taking the necessary steps to ensure a safe and on-time operation for our customers.”

At American Airlines, “we are working closely with our vendors to ensure there is no disruption to our operation,” spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.

“American supports better pay for workers across the board, but does not believe initiatives should target a specific group or industry. We also respect the right of employees and workers to organize, but we do not get involved in union representation discussions with our vendors and their employees.”

Miltko-Ivkovich said she expected the contractors would attempt to find replacements, but said: “There will be some effects on travel for sure.”

“We don’t expect to shut the airport down, but there certainly could be some delays. We don’t know how the airlines or contractors will respond,” she said, adding: “Anything that happens here does have a ripple effect nationally.”

Miltko-Ivkovich anticipated about 1,500 supporters would join the strikers Nov. 29 to march silently through Terminals 1,2 and 3 as well as demonstrate on the sidewalks outside the terminals.

There’s little chance, she said, for all parties involved to reach a resolution before the strike, as no progress has been made in more than a year of trying.

“The contractors make it very difficult for them to come together and form a union,” Miltko-Ivkovich said. “Every time the workers speak out, they get fired.”

Suzanne Mucklow, a spokeswoman for Prospect Airport Services, said the company is “aware of reports that a strike is planned for November 29th and are working closely with our airline clients and airport authorities to ensure that operations will not be disrupted and passenger travel is not affected.”

A woman who answered the phone at Scrub Inc., on the Northwest Side, said: “We don’t give any comment thank you so much have a good day.”

A message seeking comment with Air Serve was not immediately returned.

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