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Clout-heavy janitorial company sues City Hall to hang onto lucrative O’Hare deal

Rick Simon’s United Maintenance says it’s being pushed out and that city officials plan to bring in ABM Industries, Inc., which has faced accusations of not protecting female janitors.

A United Maintenance Company Inc. employee at work Tuesday at O’Hare Airport. The company is suing City Hall in an effort to hold onto a janitorial services deal that’s paid it almost $200 million over nearly a decade.
A United Maintenance Company Inc. employee at work Tuesday at O’Hare Airport. The company is suing City Hall in an effort to hold onto a janitorial services deal that’s paid it almost $200 million over nearly a decade.
Robert Herguth / Sun-Times

A Chicago janitorial company headed by clout-heavy businessman Rick Simon is suing City Hall in an effort to hold onto a deal at O’Hare Airport under which it’s been paid almost $200 million over nearly a decade.

Simon’s United Maintenance Company Inc. says Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration is violating city and state procurement and contract bidding procedures.

The suit, filed Oct. 8, says City Hall plans to give half of the work at O’Hare that Simon’s company has been doing to ABM Industries, Inc., one of the nation’s largest janitorial businesses, which has faced a series of lawsuits filed by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission accusing ABM of failing to protect female workers from sexual violence. The company was the subject of the 2015 PBS “Frontline” documentary “Rape on the Night Shift” about women who were sexually harassed and assaulted while working as night janitors in California.

The other half of the O’Hare work is expected to go to another company.

Simon’s South Loop company has continued to handle janitorial work at O’Hare — cleaning toilets, mopping floors, washing windows — under a series of no-bid contract extensions and other modifications since the five-year contract then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration gave it in 2012 ran out.

So far this year, United Maintenance has been paid roughly $20 million, city records show.

Now, the Lightfoot administration is planning to dump Simon’s company, according to the lawsuit, and split the janitorial services at the airport into two deals going to ABM Industries and another company, according to the lawsuit. One would handle janitorial work on the secure side of the airport, and the other would do custodial work elsewhere at O’Hare.

According to the United Maintenance lawsuit, City Hall “intends to enter into a contract with ABM for comprehensive custodial/window cleaning and related hygiene disposal services for the secure airside at O’Hare” and “has allowed ABM the opportunity to discuss its proposal, revise pricing and modify its transition plan for providing the services at issue on the secure side of O’Hare.”

Simon wouldn’t comment.

According to a written statement from ABM, the company has “zero tolerance for harassment of any sort.” And, regarding O’Hare: “To our knowledge, the robust selection process remains ongoing.” It directed other questions about the O’Hare work to City Hall.

City officials wouldn’t discuss the selection process, except for a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation — which runs O’Hare and Midway Airport — saying, “No one has been hired, and the procurement is active.”

United Maintenance was among 11 companies that sought the O’Hare janitorial work in 2011 when City Hall, under Emanuel, last put the work out for bid, city records show.

The deal was re-bid in 2018, and Simon’s lawsuit says his company was “the lowest responsive and responsible bidder.”

But Lightfoot’s administration scrapped that after she was elected mayor in 2019, and it put out a new request for proposals in 2020.

Simon’s lawsuit aims to block any new O’Hare janitorial contracts. At his company’s request, a judge has issued a temporary order putting a halt on any new deals for now.

United Maintenance has drawn criticism from unions over pay concerns and Simon’s alleged ties to reputed mob figures. The company was once run by the late Ben Stein, a reputed mob associate, and Simon also has done business with others with reputed ties to organized crime, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported.

In 2016, United Maintenance settled a wage-theft lawsuit filed by low-wage O’Hare janitors for more than $1 million.

In 2013, the Sun-Times reported Simon had sold part of his business but didn’t immediately disclose the sale to the city despite being required to do so. Emanuel could have canceled the contract then but stuck with United Maintenance.

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