CITY HALL — A yearslong fight over pay, benefits and the right to unionize ended Wednesday when the City Council approved a pact that will give about 8,000 workers at O’Hare Airport a pay raise to at least $13.45 an hour.
The agreement also promises baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, aircraft maintenance workers and security guards a smooth path to joining a union.
Danny Rodriquez, who has worked at O'Hare's International Terminal for a year and a half, said the pay bump and new benefits would make it possible for him to take care of his grandmother.
"We are simply asking for respect," Rodriquez said at a news conference before Wednesday's unanimous vote by the Council.
Workers at O'Hare will make more than the city's minimum wage, which rose to $11 earlier this year and will hit $13 in 2019.
The now-resolved dispute has its roots in a 2011 move by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to give an airport maintenance contract to a nonunion firm, and ensures labor peace at one of the nation's largest airports where Service Employees International Union Local 1 had staged several walkouts in an effort to improve working conditions and boost pay to $15 per hour.
The union had fiercely criticized the mayor since he moved — a few months after taking office in 2011 — to award a five-year janitorial contract worth $99 million to United Maintenance Co. Inc., which meant the loss of 320 union jobs at O'Hare.
The pay raise will go into effect July 1, 2018, with annual increases tied to the cost of living. Employees who get tips will get a $1-an-hour bump to the city's $5.95-an-hour minimum wage.
Union representation isn't guaranteed for these employees. SEIU must organize the employees under the rules set by state and federal laws. The city, however, will not oppose that effort, under the agreement.
Tom Balanoff, the president of SEIU Local 1, said the ordinance was good public policy.
"This will mean so much to these employees who are paid so little," Balanoff said.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) led the fight for the ordinance and had threatened to force a vote on the floor of the Council if Emanuel did not agree to move forward. A candidate for governor, he was not present at Wednesday's meeting.
SEIU also has accused the nonunion firms of cheating O'Hare workers who worked off the clock or didn't earn enough tips to reach the minimum wage out of approximately $1 million this year. The union has filed complaints with the city and state.
The agreement lays the groundwork for the city to renegotiate the agreements that allow the major airlines to use the airport.