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City Council approves law boosting pay, easing unionization for airport workers

The Chicago City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Wednesday that will give airport baggage handlers, janitors and other contracted workers a pay bump and make it easier for them to form a union.

The law, expected to affect 8,000 workers, requires airline subcontractors to abide by certain labor standards in order to receive a license to operate at O'Hare and Midway airports.

Starting July 1 of next year, companies must pay workers at least $13.45 an hour and establish labor peace agreements with any union trying to organize the workers. That means the union agrees not to strike or protest and the employer agrees not to resist the organizing efforts, which historically has led to more successful union elections.

Tipped workers, such as wheelchair attendants, must be paid $1 more than Chicago's tipped minimum wage.

Airlines for America, an advocacy group for the airlines that hire many of the subcontractors, opposed the measure. It argued that the measure violates federal labor law by forcing a private employer into an agreement with a union that employees have not yet elected to join and that certain industries shouldn't be subject to a higher minimum wage.

The ordinance, which was introduced in late July by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and backed by members of the Black, Latino and Progressive caucuses, is modeled after a similar law in Los Angeles that requires labor peace agreements and has so far survived a legal challenge.

The passage of the measure comes after a two-year campaign by the Service Employees International Union to highlight the pay and working conditions of Chicago's nonunionized airport workers, who it seeks to add to its member rolls.

"It's a win-win-win-win for airport workers, passengers, the city and the airlines," said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff, whose union organized several protests and strikes to pressure lawmakers. "It's going to start a process to make a better life for the workers here and make a safer, cleaner, more convenient airport for the passengers and help Chicago start to lift up all of our communities."

The law covers baggage handlers, aircraft cabin cleaners, janitors, security officers, ticket-takers, de-icers and wheelchair attendants, among other workers.

aelejalderuiz@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @alexiaer

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