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Contract for new janitor service at O’Hare criticized by powerful union boss

Updated: December 4, 2012 6:14AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration this week awarded a $99 million O’Hare Airport janitorial contract to a company that, a powerful union leader claims, intends to dump 300 union custodians and replace them with lower-paid, non-union janitors.

United Maintenance replaces Scrub, Inc, whose contract expired June 30.

Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, said Scrub has been paying its 300 O’Hare employees the prevailing wage ranging from $12.05-to $15.45-an-hour, depending on seniority.

Balanoff accused United Maintenance of undercutting its competition for the five-year contract by signaling its intention to run a non-union shop.

“They’ve already informed us they would not be retaining the workforce. That means they’re gonna run it non-union and put everybody back at entry-levels,” said Balanoff.

“Is pushing janitors into poverty by paying them lower wages and lower or no benefits the right way of doing things? The mayor’s procurement department decides who gets these contracts. I wish he would have awarded this to a union contractor. He had a lot of union contractors bid on this.”

Balanoff added, “This contractor should retain the workforce there and live up to the [industry] standards. Pay what’s in the private sector contract; 99.9 percent of the buildings downtown have union janitors paid union contract rates negotiated between us” and Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA).

Anthony D’Angelo, vice-president of security and corporate compliance for United Maintenance, said the current O’Hare janitors are free to apply for the new jobs. He also insisted that whoever is hired would be paid the “same benefits and wages” paid to Scrub employees.

“It’s totally up to the employees if they want to become union or non-union. We support their ability to make that decision,” D’Angelo said.

He added, “We intend on doing a better, more efficient job and the savings will go to the people of Chicago.”

Tom Alexander, a spokesman for Emanuel, said Balanoff is not in a position to talk about United Maintenance’s hiring plan “as that is unknown.”

“The company that had the contract, Scrub, will make decisions about its employees. Some may be reassigned, some may be hired by the new company. Those are decisions that will be made by Scrub, after their work is done at the airport.

“As for the wages that United will pay, they have agreed to pay their employees the prevailing wage, which is $11.90 an hour plus $3.73 for benefits, for a total of $15.63 an hour (this is the lowest, starting rate). This is well in excess of the living wage required by law.”

Aviation Department spokesperson Karen Pride said United Maintenance was deemed the “lowest responsive bidder.” Two lower bidders were deemed “unresponsive” after they “failed to meet the “minimum requirement for wages outlined in the contract,” Pride said, refusing to reveal specifics.

As for the 300 union workers who risk losing their jobs under United, Pride noted that the employees are “under a private relationship with Scrub” and the Department of Aviation is “currently not aware of Scrub’s plans for their employees.”

But she said, “Nevertheless, [the city] has asked both Scrub and United Maintenance to work together on a transition plan.”

United Maintenance President Rick Simon once served as chairman of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau and was a South Loop neighbor of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. He is among a handful of Daley pals who invested in the Park Grill Restaurant at Millennium Park.

In 2002, a union oversight committee accused Simon of colluding with Chicago Teamster William Hogan Jr. in a deal that would have allowed Simon to undercut the pay of Teamsters who worked at Las Vegas conventions. Simon denied the allegations.

Balanoff has spent weeks lobbying City Hall to bypass United Maintenance. What’s his next move, now that the city has awarded the contract?

“Our options are to try to see if this contractor will retain our workers and, if they won’t, we’ll see how we move forward,” he said, refusing to reveal specifics.

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