Airline passengers at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport can expect delays and disruption Tuesday as hundreds of workers walk out demanding a $15 minimum hourly wage and union rights.
About 600 cabin cleaners, janitors, wheelchair attendants and baggage handlers have committed to the strike – termed a ‘Day of Disruption’ and is a part of the nationwide ‘Fight for $15’ movement.
Despite the planned action, officials from both United and American told NBC Chicago that they were planning ahead to ensure there would be no effect on service.
The workers are all employed by private contractors to the airport and so are not union members – but they trying to organize with the help of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1.
They’re also expected to be joined by around up to 2,000 supporters in a picket outside the airport. This will be the first strike since Donald Trump won the presidency.
Tom Balanoff, president of the SEIU Local 1, said the strike was necessary for the workers.
‘They provide vital services. They’re adults trying to support their family,’ he said. ‘The airport needs to be an economic engine for the entire city.’
Some of those at O’Hare currently work for $10.50 per hour – the minimum hourly wage in Chicago, according to CNN Money.
And that makes it tough to survive, according to Kisha Rivera, a cabin cleaner at O’Hare who says some of her colleagues sleep in the airport because they can’t afford apartments.
‘We work so hard and we hardly even get breaks,’ she said. ‘When we go from plane to plane, we can’t even go to the bathroom.’
Employees took the strike vote around two weeks ago, and announced it on November 21.
They deliberately delayed the strike until after Thanksgiving because they ‘care about their passengers,’ Balanoff said.
‘The workers aren’t necessarily striking to shut the airport down,’ he said – just ‘to elevate their message and their concern.’
He added that the employees are hoping the public will support the action and demands for higher wages.
Both United and American airlines have said they are working to manage and negate possible disruption to their services.
‘We are working closely with our vendors to ensure there is no disruption to our operation,’ said American Airlines spokesperson Leslie Scott.
‘American supports better pay for workers across the board, but does not believe initiatives should target a specific group or industry,’ Scott added.
And United spokesperson Charles Hobart said in a statement: ‘We are taking the necessary steps to ensure a safe and on-time operation for our customers.’
Chicago Department of Aviation officials also say they don’t anticipate disruptions.
Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert and professor at DePaul University in Chicago, told CNN Money said the walk out probably wouldn’t leave passengers stranded, but might cause issues in the smooth running of the airport.
‘Some planes may not get fully cleaned, and bag handling may have some snafus,’ he suggested.
The contracted workers are employed by Prospect Airport Services, AirScrub Inc. and the city of Chicago.
The strike is part of a nationwide campaign by ‘Fight for $15’, which advocates higher hourly wages across the board.
The O’Hare employees will be joined in their strike by protesters at 20 airports around the country.
In the city and nationally, fast food workers – including those at McDonald’s franchises – will also walk out, as will Uber drivers and home care workers, CNN Money said.