Brown: Don’t forget the other strike

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Baggage handlers unload bags from an American Airlines flight at O’Hare Int’l Airport Tuesday in Chicago in 2005. Sun-Times File Photo.

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There’s a second one-day strike this week that differs from the one you already know about in several key ways, including that this one might actually accomplish something.

The workers who were scheduled to walk off their jobs at O’Hare Airport late Wednesday and continue through Thursday aren’t expected to cause nearly as much disruption as the teachers shutting down Chicago Public Schools on Friday.

In fact, there’s a question of whether even airport-goers will notice the strike if they don’t happen across the demonstration planned for 8 a.m. between O’Hare Terminals 2 and 3.

But for the hundreds of low-wage security officers, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors and passenger attendants expected to participate in the O’Hare job action, the effort has the potential to be a life-changer.

The striking workers involved are not members of a union, but are being organized toward that end by the Service Employees International Union.


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Their unfair labor practice strike, alleging retaliatory efforts by the airport contractors who employ them, is part of a broader national effort by SEIU to unionize them under the umbrella Airport Workers United.

Workers at eight other U.S. airports are supposed to participate in the strike, which was originally scheduled for last week but postponed because of the terrorist attack in Brussels.

Thousands of people work behind-the-scenes at O’Hare and Midway airports, and one of the dirty little secrets is that most of them are paid at or near minimum wage, some of them actually below it.

The effort to unionize them mirrors the national fight for a $15-an-hour wage at fast food restaurants and other large chains that pay their employees so little they have to rely on government programs like food stamps to make ends meet.

“I want them to hear us out this time,” said Sadaf Subijano, 42, who has worked security at O’Hare for 20 years.

Subijano is currently employed by Universal Security, which is contracted by the city Aviation Department to provide a so-called “third level” of security at O’Hare.

The unarmed, uniformed guards handle lower-level security responsibilities such as monitoring doors and gates both in the terminals and on the airfield.

One of the big complaints from the security workers — along with their $12.11-an-hour wage and no paid sick leave — is that they don’t get enough training.

In particular, they say they aren’t instructed properly in how to deal with real security threats such as a terrorist attack.

“All we have is the radio,” Subijano said Wednesday.

After workers aired those complaints earlier this month to city Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans, Universal Security followed up by showing its workers a Homeland Security video titled “Run! Hide! Fight!”

The video was released four years ago as a way to advise members of the public about what to do if caught in an active-shooter situation, the main takeaway being you ought to try to get away quickly.

I’ve linked to the video on our website so you can judge for yourself whether this is the sort of “training” you would expect in an emergency for uniformed airport security, even for the third string.

The workers took it as a further insult.

But they still might be better off than the airport attendants who are paid $6.25 to $8.25 an hour to transport disabled passengers to and from their gates and rely on tips they are forbidden from soliciting to bring them up to minimum wage.

Despite those issues, Subijano admits it is difficult to get many of the workers on board for the strike.

“They are afraid of not having a job to feed their families,” she said.

An Aviation Department spokesman said the city “does not anticipate any impact to airport operations because of the proposed job action.”

If you happen to be flying Thursday and encounter more than the usual inconvenience, keep in mind that people are fighting for their future.

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