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O’Hare Janitors Descend On Mayor’s House To Protest Looming Job Cuts

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Union janitors who work at O'Hare International Airport hold a candlelight vigil outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's house on Nov. 29, 2012, to protest plans award the janitorial contract to a new company that does not use union labor. (Credit: CBS)

Union janitors who work at O’Hare International Airport hold a candlelight vigil outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house on Nov. 29, 2012, to protest plans award the janitorial contract to a new company that does not use union labor. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Dozens of union airport workers were holding a prayer vigil outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house on Thursday, asking him to reconsider a decision to hand custodial work at O’Hare International Airport to a new company that doesn’t use union labor.

CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov reports the O’Hare janitors and window washers will lose their jobs in just over two weeks, when a new contractor takes over custodial work at the airport.

The workers wanted to send a message to the mayor, on his birthday: Walk a day in our shoes.

Asked what his job has meant to him, 25-year-old Jermaine Samples said, “It’s meant the world to me so far, up until now, because it was how I provide for my family.”

Samples, a member of Service Employees International Union Local 1, is about to lose his $15-an-hour cleaning bathrooms at O’Hare.

Union custodial workers employed by Scrub, Inc., are being pushed at O’Hare out after Emanuel awarded a new janitorial contract to United Maintenance, a non-union firm.

“I just refuse to go back to where I started. It took so long, and it was so hard to get there,” he said. “Fifteen dollars is like a lot to me, because nobody in my family never made that. I never went to college, so for a kid like me who never went to college to make that kind of money … it’s good.”

SEIU Local 1 secretary-treasurer Laura Rueda said the switch in custodial contractors at O’Hare isn’t about saving money, claiming the city’s request for proposals to run the operation there called for 69 more custodial workers than are already at the airport.

“This is about the mayor taking care of his millionaire friends, and this is about the mayor taking away middle class jobs,” she said.

A city spokesperson said, “The city of Chicago conducted an open, fair process to select the contractor with the focus on getting a fair and efficient deal for taxpayers.”

But the 320 janitors and window washers who are about to lose their jobs in the middle of the holiday season said the move isn’t fair.

Mildred Rueda, a single mother and grandmother who works as an O’Hare janitor said the situation is “very frustrating.” She said she’s already living paycheck to paycheck.

“I go home, I can’t sleep, because I don’t know what’s gonna happen, especially right around the holidays,” she said. “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?”

The city said United Maintenance might rehire some displaced workers. But there’s no guarantee, and union employees said, even if that happens, instead of making $15.90 an hour, they would make $11.90.

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