City airport leader opposed to wage requirement measure

The city’s top aviation official today said she opposes an effort to require shops and restaurants at the city’s major airports to pay a “living wage,” an idea backed by a majority of aldermen.

Instead, the wages paid should be left to economic forces, Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino said. Under a new contract at O’Hare, those forces are resulting in decent pay as a result of union contracts, she added.

“We never interfere with that dialogue, from them talking to our concessionaires and creating a collective bargaining agreement amongst each other,” Andolino said. “The only difference is we just don’t believe it should be legislated. It’s an open market, and they are allowed to do that.”

Andolino made her stance clear during budget hearings on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed spending plan for next year.

It came as the city is receiving bids to run food and beverage outlets in 6,000 square feet of space at Midway Airport. It’s also evaluating bids for shops and restaurants at both airports and plans a to launch a new round of bidding for new space at O’Hare early next year.

In light of all that, 31 aldermen have signed up as sponsors of an ordinance that would mandate a living wage — now $11.18 an hour — be paid by concession operators at the airport.

The aldermen are hearing from constituents who fear they will lose their jobs as all the concession leases turnover and want to ensure that they get paid fairly. The Unite Here union, meanwhile, is pushing for the living-wage ordinance.

“I have been bombarded by people who are worried about their jobs and their families,” said Ald. Debra Silverstein, 49th. “They are very hard-working people. They have families they need to feed. And I think it’s really important, that they are entitled to decent wages, and I think we should do whatever we can to assure that for them.”

Andolino said that under a new multi-million contract recently awarded for O’Hare’s international terminal, Westfield Concession Management has entered union contracts with shops that sell newspapers and food, as well as companies that hire clean-up crews. In both cases, they have hired almost all of the same employees, she said.