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New O’Hare janitors opt for rival union

Updated: May 7, 2013 6:05AM



A bitter loss for a labor union that’s feuding with Mayor Rahm Emanuel has turned into gain for some of Emanuel’s best friends in organized labor.

Janitors’ union leaders complained that 300 members lost their jobs a few days before Christmas because Emanuel signed a $99.4 million deal with a new contractor to clean O’Hare Airport. Now, the replacement airport janitors have joined the Teamsters — one of the few unions that supported Emanuel’s 2011 mayoral campaign.

SEIU leaders — who were neutral in the 2011 mayor’s race and have since criticized Emanuel frequently — filed a complaint Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board. They say the city’s new airport janitorial contractor, United Maintenance Cos. Inc., “unlawfully coerced” its airport employees to become Teamsters.

Nora Kelley, chief of staff at SEIU Local 1, said United Maintenance and city officials refused to arrange access to the workers for SEIU to try to organize them. “Instead, they granted preferential access” to the Teamsters, Kelley said.

A Teamsters spokesman did not return calls seeking comment, but United Maintenance lawyer Thomas Mandler said the company’s O’Hare workers voted earlier this week to join Teamsters Local 727. Mandler said city officials played no role in negotiations.

Asked about charges that City Hall favored the Teamsters, Emanuel spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton replied in an email that the matter is “a dispute between two labor organizations.” She added that the city “supports the rights of the employees of United Maintenance to bargain collectively.”

During the 2011 mayoral campaign, as many of the largest public employees’ unions opposed Emanuel, he received a key endorsement from Teamsters leader John Coli.

United Maintenance CEO Richard Simon also is well-acquainted with the Teamsters. A review board appointed to root out corruption and mob influence in the Teamsters alleged in 2002 that Simon colluded with union bosses, including William Hogan Jr., to undermine the union’s contract in Las Vegas.

After the five-year O’Hare contract took effect in December, five aldermen asked Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to investigate. They cited a Chicago Sun-Times story that revealed how Simon sold a 50 percent stake in United Maintenance but did not report the ownership change to Emanuel administration officials for a year. That could have been grounds for voiding the contract, but Emanuel aides chose not to punish United Maintenance.

The mayor also shrugged off Simon’s business ties to an alleged organized-crime figure and United Maintenance’s employment of an executive who was indicted with the late Outfit boss Anthony “Big Tuna” Accardo.



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