Hundreds of workers protest at Chicago O’Hare Airport

Airport workers frustrated over lack of response by city officials for job protections

As the city gets closer to signing new deals that will jeopardize over 1,500 Chicago jobs, hundreds of airport concessions workers and allies held an action at the Chicago O’Hare Terminal 1 departures area on Thursday, May 10, calling for city officials to move forward on measures that would improve the quality and stability of airport jobs. Actions on Thursday come in the wake of recent firings at the airport and more than two years of asking city officials to put in place job protections and a living wage for airport workers.

Much of the food and retail concessions at both O’Hare and Midway Airports are set to undergo a redevelopment overhaul in the coming months, a transition process that will affect over 1,500 workers and over $200 million in annual revenues. Redevelopment at other major U.S. airports, such as JFK in New York and Cleveland Hopkins International in Ohio, has been accompanied by labor harmony and worker protection procedures to ensure a smooth transition to new concessions operations. Chicago has, thus far, failed to implement such measures.

“I’m proud of the customer service I provide to Chicago travelers,” said Maria Iniguez-Villalobos, a food server at O’Hare. “But, I depend on my job. If I lose my job, how am I going to put food on the table? How will I help pay for my kids’ college?”

Earlier this year, Chicago’s airport concessions transition process was put to the test as operations at O’Hare Terminal 5 were taken over by new companies. This transition resulted in more than half of the existing retail concessions workforce losing their jobs. Now, as upcoming transitions threaten the careers of hundreds of Chicagoans, many of them are feeling the pressure.

“There’s too much at stake for us to let this process move forward without a thoughtful worker transition,” said Henry Tamarin, President of UNITE HERE Local 1. “Airport workers need to know their jobs are secure. If they got it done at airports in Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles and so many other cities, then I know it can be done here in Chicago.”