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O’Hare’s janitorial contract a messy situation

Jesse Padillan O'Hare janitor from Chicago other O’Hare airport workers conduct prayer vigil outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel's residence Chicago Ill.

Jesse Padilla, an O'Hare janitor from Chicago, and other O’Hare airport workers conduct a prayer vigil outside of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's residence in Chicago, Ill., on Thursday, November 29, 2012. The group hopes Mayor Rahm Emanuel will reconsider a decision to privatize their jobs. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 3, 2013 10:50AM

A $99.4 million janitorial contract the city awarded to United Maintenance Co. to clean O’Hare Airport is a big mess.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that the owner of United Maintenance, Richard Simon, was once involved in another company with “alleged mob figure” William Daddano Jr.

Although there is no allegation that Simon did anything wrong, a 1997 report by the Chicago Crime Commission listed Daddano among the “members and associates” of the mob’s North Side crew.

Scrub Inc., the company that lost the contract, has an unsavory background as well.

The janitorial company has had the O’Hare contract since 2005 when the city privatized.

In 2009, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity sued the company alleging Scrub failed to recruit and hire African-Americans applicants. To end the litigation, the company agreed to pay $3 million and entered into a consent decree.

Mark Rathke, Scrub’s general manager, didn’t want to comment on the lawsuit or consent decree when I reached out to him.

He did point out, however, that the company takes pride in having an “over 70 percent minority work force.”

But when the EEOC stepped in, African Americans made up just 3 percent of Scrub’s work force, according to that agency.

It was through the efforts of a court-appointed monitor that Scrub’s work force became 40 percent minority, according to an EEOC official.

Apparently, Scrub’s owners were a pretty thickheaded bunch when it came to civil rights.

“After the lawsuit was over, and they had entered into a consent decree and was going through the monitoring process, people who were working at Scrub continued to file charges of discrimination,” noted John C. Hendrickson, EEOC Regional Attorney.

“Those discrimination charges included race, sexual harassment, and disability discrimination relating to pregnancy,” he said.

The charges were resolved during the administration process, and the company was fined an additional $700,000. Scrub is still in the process of paying off its debt to the EEOC.

Before coming to the attention of the EEOC, Scrub was on the Office of Federal Contract Compliance’s radar. That agency also found Scrub discriminated against blacks in hiring.

“They settled with OFCCP and entered into a consent degree,” said Laurie Elkin, an EEOC trial attorney.

“But a couple of years later, they went back to their old ways. That is when it came to our attention. They have been in trouble for a long time,” she said.

So it is indeed ironic that SEIU Local 1 is at the forefront of actions that could be interpreted as supporting Scrub.

Last week, the union led janitors and others employed by Scrub in a prayer vigil outside of Mayor Rohm Emanuel’s home to protest the United Maintenance contract.

Izabela Miltko, a spokesperson for SEIU, Local 1 was adamant that the labor action was not a show of support for Scrub.

“We are not supporting Scrub, Inc. We are supporting [the ideal] of a responsible contractor. We don’t know who they might be as long as they uphold benefits and good jobs and not make them poverty level jobs,” Miltko told me.

She claims United Maintenance will “slash jobs and not provide benefits.

“Their bid was $11 million lower than you would need to provide decent wages and benefits,” Miltko said. “They have told us in conversations that they will be paying much less benefits.”

That kind of talk may explain why only half of the employees working for Scrub under the old contract have applied for jobs with United Maintenance.

Pay for those jobs range from $15.63 to $20.73 an hour, depending upon experience and qualifications, according to Steve Patterson, VP, Res Publica Group.

“Because of the lack of diversity the courts said exist in the current work force, United has reached out to UNO, CHA, American Indian Center, Chinese American Service League and others to encourage applications. United is also giving special preference to veterans who apply,” he said.

SEIU Local 1, however, has painted a bleak future for the janitors.

One flier put out by the union warns that “after years of service to the City of Chicago, hundreds of O’Hare workers may be unemployed just weeks before Christmas.”

The flier urges people to call Simon and tell him to “walk a day in O’Hare janitors’ shoes.”

But where was this union when Scrub was discriminating against black applicants?

In a town that has been stigmatized by the likes of Al Capone, I can see how allegations of mob ties might make the mayor skittish about this deal.

But Scrub’s blatant disregard of civil rights laws was reason enough to bid them good riddance.

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