O'Hare Janitors Carol At Mayor Emanuel's House To Save Their Jobs

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O'Hare Airport janitors carolingRather than waiving picket signs and calling the mayor the spawn of the devil, dozens of Chicago workers are attempting a new kind of protest: serenading Rahm Emanuel into submission.

Three hundred and fifty janitorial workers at O'Hare International Airport are slated to lose their jobs on Friday, after Emanuel awarded the lucrative contract to a non-union company that offered its services for a significantly lower price. The current workers were forced to re-apply for their positions along with the rest of the public, for a lower wage and no guarantee of full-time work.

Many of the workers have channeled that frustration into sweet, sweet music. At the end of November, they gathered outside his home on the north side of Chicago in a prayer vigil with 52 candles to honor his birthday, and sang "Happy Birthday" in English, Spanish and Polish, the languages spoken by the workers, reported NBC Chicago.

And on Thursday evening they returned to his doorstop for some caroling, spelling out the phrase "RAHM JOB KILLER" in lights.

Mayor Favors Lowest Bidder To Save $11 Million

It's unclear whether this appeal to the Christmas spirit will work on Chicago's first Jewish mayor. Emanuel has defended the contract change as the result of a transparent and competitive process, after the current custodial services company Scrub Inc.'s contract expired at the end of June.

The new contractor, United Maintenance Company Inc., offered a $99 million deal, more than $11 million less than what Scrub put on the table.

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The Services Employees International Union counters that the United Maintenance Company was able to offer a lower bid because it will be doing away with veteran custodian workers and replacing them with less experienced, cheaper labor. According to the Chicago Tribune, SEIU says Scrub pays workers a starting salary of $12.05 an hour, which tops out at $15.45 after five years. United Maintenance is offering $11.90 an hour, with no guarantee of full-time work, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

United Maintenance emphasizes that it's paying above the prevailing wage, and claims that it's also providing superior benefits, while saving the city money. It also states that 100 of the Scrub janitors have been offered jobs, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.

Union: The Move Is 'Socially Irresponsible'

At a press conference Tuesday, four Chicago alderman spoke out in solidarity with the laid-off workers. "The issue here is whether, in being fiscally responsible, we're being socially responsible," said Rick Munoz, alderman for Ward 22, in the Sun-Times. "... What's going on at O'Hare is socially irresponsible because these men and women ... are being let go right before the holiday season and replaced by employees who make less."

The next day, Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, who's had a close relationship with Emanuel, joined the chorus, charging the mayor with putting the middle class "under assault."

And It Wouldn't Be Chicago Politics Without Allegations Of Mob Activity

A longtime partner of United Maintenance owner Rick Simon once spent 18 months in federal prison for illegally giving gifts to union officials -- which is just the tip of a mountain of unsavory allegations against him. Union heads have called United Maintenance a "mobbed-up" company.

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This is one of many battles that Emanuel, a Democrat, is currently fighting with the city's unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union, which went on strike in September for the first time in 25 years, giving 350,000 children the day off. Many public unions have criticized Emanuel for amping up competition with the private sector, privatizing city services and laying off unionized city employees in the name of budget constraints.

The teachers union remains on the offensive, recently releasing a report characterizing the Chicago's school system as fostering "educational apartheid," as well as producing a video mocking Emanuel as an "evil fat cat" called "The Rahminator." Facing these kinds of tactics, the mayor may even appreciate the SEIU's more tender and uplifting form of protest.






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