Airport workers and community supporters rallied Thursday in Chicago to draw attention to unfair working conditions at O'Hare International Airport.
Passenger service workers at O'Hare joined together with supporters from labor, community and faith groups to announce the findings of a recent study that show many workers receive below minimum wage and have experienced wage theft, mistreatment and discrimination while working at the airport.
Last fall, the Labor Education Program of the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois conducted surveys of 200 employees working in passenger services at Chicago's Midway and O'Hare airports. Results from the survey revealed serious widespread problems among airport contractors, which have forced many workers to rely upon food stamps and welfare to survive.
The study found that more than 1/3 of workers earn less than Illinois' minimum wage, while others were paid less than they were owed or compensated below the legal overtime rate. Of those who complained to their employer or supervisor about their job or working conditions, 44% experienced some form of retaliation, and over 1/3 of workers experienced retaliation for trying to organize a union at their workplace. The study also found that many workers faced verbal abuse, suffer regular pain or injuries on the job, and cannot afford health insurance.
Passenger service workers are responsible for a many essential tasks that keep an airport operating, such as assisting wheelchair customers, handling bagging, driving shuttles, cleaning airplane cabins and performing security functions. Because passenger service contractors are employed directly by the airlines, the Airport Worker Justice Coalition is calling on the airlines to follow and endorse a Workers' Bill of Rights and discuss the problem of wage theft.
The Airport Worker Justice Coalition, comprised of passenger service workers from Chicago's Midway and O'Hare Airports, SEIU Local 1, clergy from ARISE Chicago and other community groups, plans to continue to speak out until the airlines recognize and address the widespread problems in the industry.