SEIU Local 1, which represents janitors in Chicago, Houston, and other US cities, on December 3 urged the Illinois attorney general to investigate possible mob connections of a company that was recently awarded a janitorial contract at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
The union also called Mayor Rahm Emanuel a “job killer” for signing off on the lowball contract that could cost many airport janitors and other cleaning staff their jobs just before Christmas.
Last month, Mayor Emanuel approved a $99 million, five-year contract with United Maintenance for cleaning services at O’Hare. United Maintenance is owned by Richard Simon, who according to the Chicago Sun-Times was until 2011 a business associate of William Daddano, Jr., described by the Illinois attorney general in 2004 as a reputed member of organized crime.
SEIU’s call for an investigation of Simon and his possible mob connection is the union’s latest effort in an ongoing campaign to save good-paying cleaning jobs at O’Hare Airport.
Earlier this year when the airport’s cleaning services contract came up for renewal, the city began accepting bids. The current contractor is Scrub, Inc., which has a contract with SEIU Local 1 that sets pay for janitors at between $12.05 an hour and $15.45 an hour.
The money for the cleaning contract does not come from the Chicago city budget, but rather from fees that airlines pay to use the airport, one the world’s busiest.
But instead of accepting the Scrub bid, the city selected Simon’s United Maintenance, whose bid was $11 million lower than Scrub’s.
Back in July when it became known that United Maintenance was bidding on the new O’Hare contract, SEIU Local 1 president Tom Balanoff became concerned. He knew that United Maintenance had a reputation for paying its janitors below the union standard. The low wages made the company’s lowball bids profitable.
Balanoff met with United’s general counsel and learned that if the city accepted United’s proposal, the company planned to hire its own janitorial staff, which would allow it to pay its janitors less and would cost many of the current janitors their jobs.
Shortly after learning of United’s intentions, SEIU 1 began mobilizing its members to oppose any new cleaning contract that did not protect decent-paying jobs. Balanoff in July urged the mayor and the city’s inspector general to block the awarding of the contract to United Maintenance.
For the next five months, the union mobilized demonstrations and other actions to protect the janitor jobs at O’Hare.
But early in November, Mayor Emanuel awarded the contract to United. The new contract and the likely layoffs that will result from it will go into effect just before Christmas.
After learning that 300 jobs were in jeopardy, Local 1 issued a statement saying,
More than 300 janitors at O’Hare airport may lose their jobs right before Christmas this year because Mayor Rahm Emanuel awarded a key public contract to a cleaning contractor with a history of undercutting good jobs. The company, United Maintenance, has already stated it will hire new workers and pay lower wages; what are now full-time, family-sustaining jobs could become part-time poverty jobs. This isn’t the first time in recent months that the mayor has turned his back on Chicago workers.
Mayor Emanuel has already eliminated many city jobs and outsourced others to companies that dramatically reduce wages and benefits. This includes a recent cleaning contract at police stations and other city buildings where dozens of janitors lost their jobs. Similarly, the O’Hare janitors currently have a union contract, family health care, and a living wage, but they will lose their jobs after years of service to this City and join the ranks of Chicago’s unemployed. The workers who take their place will likely be forced to rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet. Policies like this contribute to poverty in our communities and strike a blow to Chicago’s dwindling middle class.
On November 29, Local 1 members held a candle light vigil at Mayor Emanuels’s residence urging him to reconsider the United contract.
“I go home, I can’t sleep, because I don’t know what’s gonna happen, especially right around the holidays,” said Mildred Rueda, one of the O’Hare workers facing the loss of her job to Chicago CBS News. “Since I am a single mother, I’m the only one that does everything in the household for my kids. As of right now, I’m thinking how am I going to do it to buy gifts for them?”
At the vigil, Local 1 secretary treasurer Laura Rueda said that because the janitorial contract isn’t paid for out of the city budget, the lowball contract won’t save the city any money. “This is about the mayor taking care of his millionaire friends, and this is about the mayor taking away middle class jobs,” she said.