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Community Leaders, Workers Lobby To Save Airport Jobs

City officials met with religious leaders and airport workers Wednesday to press for the measures to protect hundreds of jobs at Chicago’s airports.

Alderman Jason Ervin of the 28th Ward rallies HMS Host workers at the Chicago Temple Tuesday morning. The union is negotiating a contract with the city that would protect airport jobs that would be lost in the next 6 months.(Photo by Aaron Bulneso)

The City Council is considering a new law that would ensure union jobs and benefits if the current airport concession contract goes to another company. The proposal, called Stable Jobs Stable Airports, would prevent labor disruptions as new companies take over.

Some 1,500-airport workers face the possibility of losing jobs or wages cut if the concessions contract with the city were to go to another company, union officials said. Bethesda-based HMS Host currently provides concessions at the city’s airports.

Last Friday, members of the UNITE HERE Local 1 who work at O’Hare Airport ratified a contract covering 1,200 HMS Host workers that will provide a living wage and affordable health insurance for all employees.

“We are now asking the city to pass a law for job protection,” said Carly Karmel, a communications specialist for the Local 1 union. “We commend HMS Host for passing the contract but without the ordinance the contract means nothing.”

Karmel said previous to the settlement on the negotiations with the new contract nearly 600 workers were uninsured.

William McNary, co-director Citizen Action Illinois, the state’s largest public interest organization, said cutting local jobs ultimately hurts the economy.

“Working people are all money spenders because they are the ones spending money on businesses in the community,” McNary said.

The workers believe that the highlight of the contract is the wage scale that ensures every worker will be making family supporting wages in the next five years.

Tamikah Shivers, an O’Hare worker, is a single mom with three boys, including an eight year old who has Downs syndrome, a five year old, and three year old who is a sickle cell carrier. “I don’t like depending on someone else providing for me and my kids,” Shiver said.

Maribel Rivas, 32, who lives in Logan Square and is raising three kids, works as a waitress for HMS Host. The company provides her with a good living and insurance for her family, she said. Losing her job would be devastating to for her family, she added.

“I wouldn’t be able to provide a future for my kids,” Rivas said. “I wouldn’t be able to continue saving for college.”

Many of the airport workers come from communities that are located in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago.

‎”Just to put this thing in perspective what we’re looking for is not something that’s going to cost people a lot of money,” Ervin said. “When I go to the airport and see that I can buy a hamburger to add anywhere from 16 to 19 cents to that total so that workers in our city can have a living wage so that Peggy [HMS host employee] can save money for her son to go to college, that’s what this is about. We’re not asking to break the bank on anything, we’re asking for those to make millions to give up nickels, and that’s only fair for you, our city and our children,” Alderman Jason Ervin, 28th ward.

Most Reverend Alberto Rojas, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago lives and represents the community he comes from. “These people are neglected or forgotten,” Rojas said. “When you get together, you can make change for the community.”

Around the county, 18 other airports have utilized job stability, revenue stability or living wage standards in policies or request for proposals.

“We want to work on putting money in people’s pockets not picking them clean,” McNary said.

Aaron Bulnes, Eva Quiñones, James Foster, Brandon Kuesis contributed reporting.

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