By Brad Edwards

(CBS) — Cleaning O’Hare International Airport costs big money.

Case in point: The 2012 city contract with United Maintenance was for $99.4 million, a payout that has since ballooned by nearly $8 million.

“United Maintenance came in and underbid the contract right off the start to get the work. … And then they turned back on the city and said, ‘Okay, now we got the work — give us more money,’” says Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU Local 1, the labor union that once represented O’Hare’s janitors. His union tried to organize the new United Maintenance janitors. That effort failed.

United Maintenance also came under fire in a 2015 federal lawsuit, filed by some O’Hare janitors accusing the firm of wage theft. The company settled the lawsuit last fall for $850,000 but admitted no wrongdoing.

Emanuel defended the contract in 2012 and, despite the cost increases totaling nearly $8 million, his administration says it’s still a good deal.

Ward 32 Ald. Scott Waguespack disagrees.

“I think the biggest problem for me is when you see the mayor’s office just willfully ignoring the problems out there,” he says. “That’s what most cities would do – they’d look at this bad contract and how it’s been carried out and say, ‘Look, we’re just going to sever the contract, we’re going to terminate it, we’re done.’”

The cleaning contract is up at the end of the year. The city plans to solicit bids prior to then. It’s expected United Maintenance will bid again.

In a statement, a company spokesperson says the cost “increases are due to materials and the local prevailing wage” and was approved by City Hall.

“United has received no additional profits,” the spokesperson says.


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