Clergy with Arise Chicago  will hold a prayer vigil at O’Hare Airport tomorrow morning, calling on Prospect Airport Services to stop paying below-minimum wages to workers who provide wheelchair assistance to elderly and disabled passengers.
The prayer vigil – 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 1, at O’Hare’s Terminal 2 (near entrance 2A) – follows a meeting with a company representative last week, said Rev. C.J. Hawking of Arise Chicago.
Passenger service agents earning minimum wage have $1.75 an hour deducted from their paychecks to cover expected tips – more during “peak times” including holiday and vacation seasons, organizers say. That means they’re getting paid from $5 to $6.50 an hour.
But tips aren’t common, in part because passengers are told it’s a free service – and workers are prohibited from soliciting tips, organizers say.
They say the company makes no effort to ensure that it is abiding by the state’s tipped minimum wage law, which requires that companies paying a below-minimum wage to tipped employees make up the difference if compensation falls below the standard minimum wage.
Employees of Prospect are working with SEIU Local 1 to win union representation. Prospect employs about 1,000 passenger service agents, exit guards, lobby agents, cabin cleaners, sky caps and ramp support workers at O’Hare and Midway.
Along with economic issues, they have safety concerns with maintenance of the equipment and with the risks associated with maneuvering multiple wheelchairs at once, according to the union.
Clergy from the Mount Prospect area met last week with an attorney for the company, who maintained that the company’s practice is legal, Hawking said.
“We argued that there’s a moral dimension that they should look at as well,” she said. “These workers are not able to take care of their families on subpar wages, and they have no health care for themselves and their families. We think that’s just not right for a company that has contracts at airports across the country.”
“These workers have earned the public trust to take care of some of our most vulnerable members of society,” Hawking said. “We do question whether some company executives have earned the public trust.”