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Airport workers to protest at O’Hare

While airport concessions are undergoing redevelopment, an ordinance extending job and wage protections to concessions workers has been bottled up in a City Council committee for six months – and airport will workers will stage a protest at O’Hare Thursday to express their frustration.

Hundreds of airport workers will convene at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, May 10, at the departure area of Chicago O’Hare Terminal 1, according to UNITE-HERE Local 1, which represents concessions workers.

It’s the first labor action at the airport in recent memory, according to a union spokesperson.

The union says the jobs and wages of  2,400 concessions workers at O’Hare and Midway are threatened by the redevelopment. It’s backing the Stable Jobs, Stable Airports Ordinance, introduced by Ald. Jason Ervin with 31 cosponsors last October.

The ordinance would end a loophoole for airport contractors in the 1998 living wage ordinance, and would require that new contractors retain incumbent workers for a probationary period.  It would also ban work stoppages and picketing.

The ordinance would boost pay for about two-thirds of the workers to $11.18 an hour – an average of 22 percent or $4,000 a year, according to In These Times.

Other cities have similar measures, but Ervin’s ordinance is stuck in the Workforce Development and Audit Committee, chaired by Mayor Emanuel’s floor leader, Ald. Patrick O’Connor.  The Department of Aviation opposes the measure, according to Progress Illinois.

Hotel workers want safe jobs

Hotel workers have succeeded in raising hospitality industry compensation well above the poverty level in contracts won in 2003 and 2006. Now they’re fighting to restore jobs and reduce workloads that can cause crippling injuries.

Citywide hotel contracts expired Monday for 6000 employees represented by UNITE-HERE Local 1, and the union says talks are stalled over demands that staffing levels be restored.

Hotels have laid off huge numbers of employees in the current recession and are “crying poor” in negotiations, though “profits are through the roof in the last decade,” said Annemarie Strassel of Local 1. “We’re calling on the industry to bring people back to work as the recession lifts, so workers aren’t doing the jobs of two or three people.”

Hotels never restored staffing levels after layoffs during the post 9/11 downturn in 2001, Strassel said. A 2006 study by the union found hotel housekeepers increasingly subject to preventable, disabling injuries, with a competitive “amenities race” on top of reduced staffing levels creating dangerous workloads.

[See the 2006 Newstip, Mothers Day event focuses on hotel workers’ injuries.]

“We’re calling on the industry to stop profiting on the backs of their workers,” she said.

Local 1 has raised wages for housekeepers from $8.83 an hour in 2002 to $14.60 today, along with health care and other benefits. In cities without union contracts, employees of the same chains earn near the minimum wage, and many rely on Medicaid and other public health programs.

The local is currently leading the longest hotel strike in U.S. labor history at the Congress Hotel, while the owners of the recently-organized Blackstone Hotel are waging “a fierce anti-union campaign,” Strassel said.

The local has charged that the company is behind a union decertification drive which followed the union’s victory in an employee vote last December; in July the company fired 15 employees including members of the union’s organizing and negotiating committees. Community leaders are joining in support of Blackstone workers, Strassel said.

Known for its intensive grassroots approach to organizing, UNITE HERE also faces citywide hotel contract negotiations in Los Angeles and San Francisco. A thousand hotel workers marched in downtown San Francisco when contracts expired there on August 14.

Mothers Day Event Focuses on Hotel Workers’ Injuries

“By the end of the day, the pain is so bad I can barely move,” says Hasime Hashimi, 37, a housekeeper at the Allerton Crowne Plaza Hotel, 701 N. Michigan.

Three doctors have said her severe back and shoulder pain is a direct result of her work. One prescribed the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine, and told her to take it every day after work with 800 mg. of Ibuprofen, followed by a hot shower for at least a half hour.

“After that I lie down, sometimes for hours,” said Hashimi, quoted in a report on job-related injuries for hotel housekeepers issued last month by UNITE HERE Local 1. “Most days I can’t cook for my two children.”

“I feel like I have a construction job.”

She’s not far off, according to the report: housekeepers have a greater rate injuries than any of 20 manufacturing jobs, including auto and truck assembly.

Housekeepers are subject to preventable and sometimes disabling injuries — including back and shoulder injuries, bursitis of the knee, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hand and wrist pain — at twice the rate of other hotel workers. As a whole, hotel workers have a 51 percent higher rate of disabling injuries than other service sector workers, according to the report, “Creating Luxury, Enduring Pain.”

While instituting a dramatic reduction in staff-to-room ratios, the hotel industry has unleashed a competitive “amenity race” which has piled on the workload, especially heavy mattresses and luxury linens, said Lars Negstad of Local 1.

The mattress on the Hilton hotels’ new “Serenity Bed” is over a foot thick and weighs 113 pounds, according to the report. Housekeepers can handle well over 500 pounds of soiled linens – and an equal amount of clean linens – each day.

The report cites an ergonomist’s study which rated housekeepers’ work at 1.29 on OSHA’s Lifting Index, with 1.0 being heavier than a healthy worker could be expected to lift over a sustained period of time.

“It’s outrageous what they’re doing to these women, it’s inhuman, treating them like machines to be driven harder and harder to push up the bottom line,” said Negstad.

While the occupational hazards of housekeeping are a new area of study, various initial data show “significantly higher rates of injury than [jobs] traditionally thought of as risky” said Dr. Peter Orris, director of the Occupational Health Service Institute at UIC. Orris guesses housekeeping could well be in the 90th percentile of risky occupations. And with the growing demands of the job it seems clear the rate of injuries is increasing, he adds.

“I would think the industry is noticing these rates of injury” and ultimately would seek help studying and alleviating the risks, as other industries have done, Orris said.

Studies show that regular rest breaks are needed to recover from bodily stress and prevent injury, according to the report. Last August, Illinois enacted a law requiring two 15-minute breaks a day for hotel housekeepers in Cook County. Within days the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association filed suit to block the law. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for May 26.

Women who work as housekeepers and their children will gather at the Thompson Center, Randolph and Clark, at 12 noon on Thursday, May 11, for a Mothers Day event calling on hotels to give housekeepers breaks. Housekeepers will give a bed-making demonstration, and children of housekeepers will speak.

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