CHICAGO (CBS) — Two O’Hare Airport truck drivers have filed a federal lawsuit, claiming they were pressured to do political work and then faced retaliation for refusing.
Charles Termini and Hector Hernandez have been O’Hare truck drivers for 26 years and 21 years respectively.
They allege that at least since 2016 the abuse they’ve received for refusing political work has been relentless.
“Mentally it just tore me up,” Termini said.
Their federal lawsuit charges Deputy Airport Commissioner Bill Helm is the enforcer, pushing employees to do political work, often on city time, with backup from Airport Manager Kevin Martin.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster out at the airport under Bill Helm, the abuse.” Hernandez said. “Kevin Martin is there all the time, nitpicking, looking for us, out in the airfield, watching us. It’s incredible, the level of pressure.”
The lawsuit also alleges bogus disciplinary action just last month.
“I was handed a five-day suspension, a 10-day suspension and a 15-day suspension to be run concurrently,” Termini said.
Termini was handed these suspensions all on the same day, the very day the federal lawsuit was filed. Helm is part of the 40th Ward organization led by Alderman Pat O’Connor. But he’s been a political payroller for years, working for the state and county as well.
As punishment Termini and Hernandez say they lost lucrative lead positions in snow clearing, salting runways and in training.
“I made about $20,000 less in overtime than his political workers,” Hernandez said.
The two say they complained all the way up to Airport Commissioner Jamie Rhee. They complained to their union and finally to Inspector General Joe Ferguson. That’s when they say the harassment exploded.
“People started calling me a stool pigeon, a rat, a beefer,” Termini said.
City Hall no longer faces federal oversight under the Shakman Decree, preventing demands for political work by employees.
“It tells us what we’ve known for a long time: that political influence in the city has not gone away,” said Attorney Cass Casper.
When asked what he hopes the lawsuit accomplishes, Hernandez said, “I just want to be left alone. I just want them to stop.”