Chicago airport workers reach first-ever bargaining agreement with airline contractors

Employees of O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport have concluded a three-year battle for higher wages and benefits with their first-ever union contracts with airline contractors.

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at the Chicago airports first held strikes in 2016 to disrupt the Thanksgiving season, in protest at what they called “wage theft” by airport employers.

The collective bargaining agreement signed between SEIU and two airline subcontractors – Scrub Inc. and Prospect Airport Services – marks the end of a long campaign for improved wages and working conditions, which president of SEIU Local 1, Tom Balanoff, said would not have been possible without an ordinance pushed through by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel two years ago.

“It’s very complicated … to organize workers at airports. They’re not under the standard National Labor Relations Act. That’s why we had to use our [political] power to create a process in the city … where workers could be guaranteed that they could organize free of intimidation and that contractors would bargain in good faith,” said Balanoff.

“Without the ordinance, the companies would have continued not to sit down with the workers. … Some of them would have continued to intimidate workers. … Now, these workers have a process that they control to say, `No. We’re gonna use that process to stop this exploitation.’”

2,200 employees, including baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, security officers and wheelchair attendants, will now receive around $8,000 more over their three-year contract, as well as better health benefits and additional holiday time.