Workers to strike at O’Hare, 19 airports on ‘Day of Disruption’

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SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff announced that “hundreds” of low-wage workers at O’Hare International Airport voted to go on strike. | Andy Grimm/Sun-Times

A one-day strike of workers at O’Hare Airport was to begin at 10 p.m. Monday, when at least some employees on crews that clean airplane cabins won’t show up for their shift.

Throughout the next 24 hours, as many as 500 workers are expected to skip their shifts as janitors, security guards, baggage handlers and other low-wage, non-union jobs at the airport to join picket lines outside the terminals, organizers said.

The airport protests will likely be the most visible among multiple demonstrations across Chicago and the U.S. as part of a national “Day of Disruption” planned by labor organizers in the Fight For $15, a movement to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. Strikes are planned by low-wage workers at 20 airports across the country, as well as walkouts at fast food restaurants and a work stoppage by some Uber drivers.

At O’Hare, 500 workers have submitted strike notices to their employers — either the airport itself or a handful of subcontractors — and strike organizers from the Service Employees International Union expect as many as 1,500 supporters will join demonstrations at the departures entrance at Terminals 2 and 3, said Izabela Miltko, a spokeswoman for SEIU Local 1, a union that has been working to organize low-wage workers at the airport for more than a year.

“We do expect there will be delays, but these workers’ goal is not to shut down the airport,” Miltko said.

Chicago Department of Aviation spokesman Owen Kilmer said Monday airline officials do not anticipate any delays related to the strike.

“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,” Kilmer said in an email.

The O’Hare workers are seeking a wage of $15 an hour and are protesting unsafe working conditions, wage theft and poor working conditions, complaints the employees have made formally to the Department of Aviation, state Department of Labor and federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Miltko said.

SEIU held a strike vote ahead of the Thanksgiving travel surge at the airport, but held off on a work stoppage that would have inconvenience holiday travelers, Miltko said. A similar walkout by low-wage workers a year ago was joined by just 100 workers, and had little impact on airport operations.

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