300 Plus Janitors to Mayor Rahm: Don’t be the Grinch Who Stole Christmas

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CHICAGO—Jermaine Samples is one of more than 300 janitors at O’hare airport who may lose their jobs right before Christmas because Mayor Rahm Emanuel awarded a $100 million public contract to a cleaning contractor with a history of undercutting jobs, a practice that could force hundreds of families onto public assistance.

Jermaine has worked as a janitor at O’Hare International Airport for four years and dreamed of working days until he found out that he might lose his job. Under the former contract, Jermaine, who is a single dad, has been able to support his six-year-old son, Jamari and help his mom pay her bills because he has a good job.

“I just moved back home two months ago because my mother lost her job and I didn’t want her to struggle. I’m helping with the bills. But then I found out I might lose my pay or even my job—I don’t know how I’ll pay the bills or take care of my son,” said Jermaine.

For the next few days, more than 300 janitors employed by Scrub at O’Hare currently make the prevailing rates of $12.05 to $15.45-an-hour along with paid holidays and vacation, health care, and a pension. The contract ends Dec. 15. “I need my medical insurance because that’s how my son goes to the doctor, the dentist,” added Jermaine.

Chicago is experiencing record unemployment, record foreclosures and record poverty. Wages have remained flat for 90% of Chicagoans in the last ten years. Workers expected Emanuel to address these problems by creating good jobs for working families—not replacing them with low-wage, no benefit jobs.

“I want to tell Mayor Emanuel that this isn’t right. I live in the Austin area. I have a 1,000 friends and I’m the only one with a job. I want the Mayor to walk a day in our shoes, live our life and see our trials. We have families to provide for. The mayor is not helping Chicago’s kids by cutting their parents wages.”

United Maintenance said Jermaine and his co-workers can apply for the jobs but there are not guarantees. “We are actively encouraging current employees to apply for new jobs with our company. We support the rights of workers who feel the need to organize, though given the wages and benefits we provide, our employees have historically seen no need to do that.”

Over the last decade, airline profits have risen dramatically, while service jobs at the nation’s second busiest airport continue to pay less and offer fewer benefits, leaving more and more Chicagoans to be forced to rely on taxpayer-funded assistance. Mayor Emanuel awarded this public cleaning contract—which is funded through airline fees—to United Maintenance, whose low bid cannot cover existing wages and benefits. With this decision, Mayor Emanuel continues a pattern of cutting good jobs to help irresponsible contractors and large corporations increase their profits at the expense of good middle class jobs for Chicago.

According to information provided by SEIU Local 1, the company’s history paints a different picture. United Service Companies—founded by Ben Stein and now headed by Richard Simon—is made up of several companies including United Maintenance, United Temps, United Security Services, and others. Under Simon’s Presidency, at least one of the United Service companies has been involved in multiple lawsuits filed by employees alleging, among other things, racial discrimination and wage theft.

Richard Simon and founder Ben Stein’s daughter Carol began running United Service Companies after Stein’s death. The two then became involved in other companies that have been accused of law violations. In several recent cases, United Temps employees have made disturbing allegations, including wage and hour violations, racial discrimination, and other abuse.

In 2011, two employees of Simon and Stein’s United Temps Inc. sued the company for alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act. The plaintiffs say United Temps discriminated against and retaliated against them after they refused to engage in unlawful conduct.1 The defendants say they became aware that the company was involved in a “host of illegal activities” including tax evasion, failing to provide workers comp, refusing to hire African Americans, paying undocumented workers less than minimum wage, forbidding employees from rest breaks and drinking water, and subjecting employees to violent verbal and physical outbursts.

In 2011, a United Temps employee filed suit in US District Court alleging harassment, discrimination, and retaliation including unlawful termination. Her suit alleged she was subjected to “ongoing daily racial insults, derogatory and offensive remarks, continuous humiliation, verbal abuse, abusive and demeaning treatment, discriminatory treatment, and was subject to a hostile work environment.”

The Teamsters Independent Review Board (IRB) uncovered a corruption scheme in which, according to the IRB, Teamsters officials colluded with Richard Simon in a deal that exploited workers for Simon’s benefit. A U.S. District Court later stated in their decision that “the IRB’s conclusion that Hogan and Passo colluded with Simon for the purpose of benefitting Simon…to the detriment of Local 631…is compelling and inescapable.”

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