In order to maximize attention to their working conditions and wages, employees at O’Hare International Airport are threatening to strike during the busier than usual Thanksgiving weekend.
The workers are not in a union, but are being organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 1. Airplane cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and janitors voted on whether to strike over a two-day period. In an all-but unanimous decision of 499-1, the workers voted to strike, according to union spokesperson Izabela Miltko-Ivkovich. There are an additional 1500 workers at the airport who did not participate in the vote.
The workers are not threatening to close the airport. They intend to picket outside O’Hare and walk through the airport terminals with placards voicing their complaints. President of SEIU Local 1, Tom Balanoff, said that the strike, “will cause some disruption, no doubt.”
“Workers are really frustrated because they’ve been fighting and they’ve been trying to get the powers to be to hear their voice,” Balanoff said. “So they’re hoping that with this strike, the powers that be — the city, the Department of Aviation, American, United and other airlines — that they’ll listen and come to a rational way so that these workers have the right to be recognized, and they have a right to bargain over their working conditions.”
Nine new gates may be just the beginning of a major expansion at O’Hare International Airport, already one of the busiest airports in the world.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he has reached an agreement with several major airlines to build as many as nine new gates, while they continue to negotiate on the possibility of an even larger expansion which could make O’Hare a more convenient airport for passengers boarding and debarking from planes.
Explaining what the expansion would mean for Chicago Emanuel said: “New York, London, Berlin, Beijing — watch out, Chicago’s coming for you.”
The airport has been expanding little by little under the ongoing long-term plans for growth, but that growth has been realized mostly in new runways. A deal on additional gates has been alluding airport planners. Most of the push-back has come from the dominant airlines of United and American, which are worried about allowing for too much competition.
It is unavoidable to add gates, however, if the airport wants to improve its on-time performance. The new runways being built will not help the airport significantly if there are not places for landed planes to park and let their passengers disembark. The result of this lack of gates is that O’Hare has some of the longest flight delays among US airports. With passengers avoiding Chicago, the city’s economy is adversely affected as well.
The plan Emanuel announced involves as many as nine gates to the 25 which already exist at Terminal 5. It is expected to cost $300 million, to be paid for with existing passenger facility charges, the extra fee that is added to the cost of a plane ticket.