Marlen Garcia: Dismal stories in O’Hare court papers

SHARE Marlen Garcia: Dismal stories in O’Hare court papers

The new south control tower is seen at O’Hare Airport in Chicago on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Follow @MarlenGarcia777The next time I am tempted to order delicious, greasy McDonald’s french fries at O’Hare International Airport, I will wonder whether workers are being paid fairly. Court papers tell a dismal story.

Two years ago, workers from McDonald’s at O’Hare filed a federal lawsuit alleging wage violations against Frankfort-based Lott Management Inc. The company operates McDonald’s at O’Hare terminals and in the south suburbs.

I wrote about allegations of wage theft at O’Hare a few weeks ago. Service Employees International Union Local 1 announced it was filing complaints of wage theft with the Illinois Department of Labor and the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection on behalf of nonunion O’Hare janitors and wheelchair attendants that work for contractors.


Follow @MarlenGarcia777Last week, colleague Dan Mihalopoulos wrote about an $850,000 settlement between a contractor hired by the city, United Maintenance Co. Inc., and more than 1,000 of its janitors who had accused the company of shorting their pay.

But there are more lawsuits and settlements out there that suggest there is a disturbing pattern of wage theft at O’Hare.

Last December, a federal judge signed off on a settlement in the suit against Lott Management and McDonald’s. In that suit, hourly workers alleged they weren’t getting paid for all their hours. Three women brought the suit against Lott Management Inc.; company president Derrick Lott and wife Christine; and McDonald’s Corp.

The settlement wasn’t much: $165,000 for 676 workers plus fees, according to court papers. But the three lead plaintiffs each received payments of $5,000 or $7,500 from a separate fund. Attorneys for the workers, Glenn Dunn and Jeff Brown, declined to comment, citing a non-publicity agreement.

The lawsuit alleged that workers were required to start early and stay late but were not compensated. They frequently worked through breaks. One worker, Latora Wright, estimated that she had worked five to nine unpaid hours a week. Time cards were adjusted so no overtime would be paid, workers said.

Representatives from Lott did not respond immediately to a call Thursday morning for comment. An email to McDonald’s Corp. did not get a response.

Dunn and Brown have active lawsuits against cleaning contractors Air Check Inc. and Scrub Inc. of Chicago. These companies are linked. When I called Air Check for comment, a Scrub receptionist answered and hung up on me.

Air Check and Scrub employ janitors. “These people are literally scrubbing s— out of toilet bowls, and they’re stealing from them,” Dunn said. In the case against Scrub, two janitors filed affidavits alleging threats of retaliation by supervisors.

Allegations in these suits are similar to those in the McDonald’s suit: Workers say several minutes or hours were skimmed off their time cards in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act and Illinois minimum wage law.

A suit Dunn and Brown brought last year against janitorial service company Geralex Inc., a subcontractor for United Maintenance, resulted in some settlement payouts ranging from $100 to $2,253 in back pay for workers. Geralex ended up filing for bankruptcy and the lawyers successfully pursued remaining claims in bankruptcy court.

I have an affinity for the airport. As a kid, I saw Santa Claus there. I grew up, and still live, a stone’s throw from O’Hare, a sprawling hub for people from all over the world.

But all I see now is garbage.


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