CHICAGO (CBS) — Hundreds of non-union workers at O’Hare International Airport plan to walk off the job to demand better pay and working conditions, but their protest won’t disrupt Thanksgiving travelers.
About 500 workers at O’Hare have been trying to form a union with the help of Service Employees International Union 1, and have voted to go on strike on Nov. 29 – the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
The workers are seeking a minimum wage of $15 per hour, along with union rights. The workers include baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors, and wheelchair attendants who are employed by contractors for the airlines at O’Hare.
“O’Hare Airport workers often can’t afford a proper Thanksgiving dinner, and know what it is like to miss Thanksgiving with our families. However, we respect families traveling to be together, and that is why we’re holding off our strikes until after the Thanksgiving holiday,” said O’Hare baggage handler Raquel Brico.
SEIU officials said the intent was never to shut down the airport or disrupt holiday travel.
“These workers care about their passengers. It was never their intent to disrupt them or their operations. It is their intent to bring light to these conditions that they’re working under,” said SEIU Local 1 spokeswoman Izabela Mitkoivkovich.
The union said, in addition to making as little as $11.50 an hour, the airport workers receive no health care benefits.
Mitkoivkovich said, even though the workers are not officially represented by a labor union, they have the right to stage an “unfair labor practices” strike, and cannot be fired for doing so.
The O’Hare workers will join a national “Fight For $15” protest on Nov. 29. Organizers said they expect tens of thousands of fast food workers, airport employees, child care teachers, graduate assitants, and others in low-wage jobs to walk off their jobs in 340 cities.
American Airlines issued the following statement about the planned walkout:
“We are working closely with our vendors to ensure there is no disruption to our operation. American supports better pay for workers across the board, but does not believe initiatives should target a specific group or industry. We also respect the right of employees and workers to organize, but we do not get involved in union representation discussions with our vendors and their employees.”
A spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation said the city does not expect any service disruption at O’Hare due to the walkout.
“The CDA remains committed to maintaining a work environment that is safe and healthy for employees and expects the same commitment from its contractors and partners,” spokeswoman Karen Pride said in an email.