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Aldermen Say Airport Workers Should Get ‘Living Wage’
Chicago Sun-Times
Fran Spielman

February 9, 2011
View the Original Article

The captive audience of consumers at O’Hare and Midway Airports has grown accustomed to paying higher prices. But they might want to hang onto their wallets.

Airport prices could go even higher if organized labor’s City Council allies succeed in forcing airport concessionaires to pay their 1,500 employees a “living wage” of $11.03 an hour.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) introduced an ordinance that would close a loophole that has allowed airport concessionaires to avoid paying the “living wage.” The ordinance was co-signed by 29 aldermen.

“Here you have multi-million dollar operators … who are selling $9, $10, $11 hamburgers [and] $5, $6, $7 beers, $30 or $35 books that you would normally get cheaper. But at airports, they have a captive audience. They are reaping profits beyond their wildest dreams. It’s a cash cow for them,” Munoz said.

“What we’re saying is, share the wealth. If we’re going to allow concessionaires to enter into … 10-, 25-year agreements to sell these $10 hamburgers, then they should be paying their staff a living wage.”

Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th) added, “When you have people back in the kitchens cooking … and those $10 hamburgers are more than the wage they make for that one hour, that’s shameful.”

Henry Tamarin, president of Unite Here Local 1, acknowledged that the ordinance would strengthen his hand in negotiations with airport newsstand and bookstore concessionaire Hudson News.

He also acknowledged that, if the full Council mandates airport concessionaires to pay higher wages, those same companies are likely to raise their already high prices.

But, he said, “It has to come from someplace. Right now, it’s coming from the lowest-paid workers. We think it ought to come out of the rest of the city or the visitors. ... If the visitors to Chicago have to pay a little bit more, we think that’s a fair deal.”

In 1998, the City Council voted to require city contractors to pay a living wage to provide political cover for an aldermanic pay raise.

Four years later, it happened again. Employees of city contractors got a 19 percent pay raise — and annual increases tied to the federal poverty rate — to set the stage for another aldermanic pay raise.

The Munoz ordinance is timed to coincide with a major overhaul of airport concessions that prompted Mayor Daley to introduce an ordinance at Wednesday’s Council meeting that would grant Westfield Concession Management LLC the power to “redevelop, sublease and manage the concessions program” at O’Hare’s international terminal.

To prevent existing employees from losing their jobs during the makeover, Munoz wants new concessionaires to retain existing employees for 90 days. If layoffs are necessary after that, it could only be done on the basis of seniority. Fired employees would be placed on a preferred re-hiring list.

The ordinance would also guarantee labor peace, with strikes, picketing, boycotting or other work stoppages strictly prohibited.

Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino could not be reached for comment on the living wage ordinance.