Oliwia Pac is in line for a $2.45-an-hour pay raise, but she feels like she won the lottery.
On Wednesday, the City Council guaranteed Pac and nearly 8,000 other contract employees at O’Hare and Midway Airports a pay floor of “no less than” $13.45-an-hour and secured their right to join unions.
“This raise means that I can finally afford my rent, get groceries, not have a hassle trying to pay off my student loans,” said Pac, who helps passengers in wheelchairs, escorts children traveling alone onto flights and works security at O’Hare Airport.
“It could be better. But this is a very big step that has occurred for us as airport workers. I’m just beyond ecstatic. We’re slowly but surely winning.”
Higher pay is not the only benefit for contract employees at O’Hare and Midway. The ordinance unanimously approved Wednesday also includes a “labor peace agreement” allowing baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, aircraft maintenance workers, security guards and other contract employees to organize without interference.
In exchange, contract employees would be prohibited from “engaging in strikes, picketing, work stoppages, boycotts or other economic interference.”
Pac said she has little doubt she and her co-workers will vote overwhelmingly to join a union.
“They’re the ones that are gonna help us be able to make proper wages, getting proper benefits, being able to get respect,” she said. “We have to report our tips. If we don’t report our tips enough, we are threatened with suspensions and terminations. There’s a lot of under-staffing. We have to break our backs by assisting two wheelchair passengers at once.”
Last month, Emanuel followed through on his promise to tie licenses for airport contractors to a “labor peace agreement.”
But the mayor’s ordinance goes beyond preserving the right to unionize. It requires those airline contractors and sub-contractors to pay their employees no less than $13.45-an-hour beginning on July 1, 2018, with annual cost-of-living increases after that. Employees whose wages include gratuities must be paid $1-an-hour more than the $5.95-an-hour minimum wage for tipped employees.
Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1, called the mayor’s ordinance one of the biggest victories for organized labor to come along in years.
SEIU Local 1 is among a group of investors that recently purchased the Sun-Times. The union has been attempting to organize contract employees at O’Hare.
Balanoff said he has no doubt that most, if not all of the 8,000 workers will choose to join unions, including his.
Airlines for America has argued that there is “no legal or policy justification for imposing a higher minimum wage on a few thousand workers who provide services to one industry at two locations” and the city’s “status as an airport operator/proprietor does not give it authority to regulate private labor relations.”
But Deputy Corporation Counsel Diane Pezanoski has assured aldermen the ordinance is on solid legal ground because it “comes pretty much directly from a licensing and training program in Los Angeles” that was challenged unsuccessfully by the airlines and service providers at Los Angeles International Airport.