Hundreds of workers at Chicago’s O'Hare International Airport have voted to go on strike ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, disrupting services during one of the busiest times of the year.
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 is representing janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants — mostly hired by private contractors — who are seeking a wage of $15 an hour.
“It is not their intent to disrupt operations, but to make their voices heard and have their concerns of wage theft, safety and working conditions to be taken seriously,” SEIU Local 1 spokeswoman Izabela Miltko-Ivkovich told CNNMoney.
While the workers voted on Thursday, the exact dates for the strike have not been decided by the almost 500 workers who committed to the strike.
“They don’t expect to shut the airport down,” SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff told the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s not what they’re trying to do. Oh, there will be disruption.”
The workers striking — some of whom get paid the Illinois minimum wage of $8.25 — are employed by Prospect Airport Services, AirServ, Scrub Inc. and the city of Chicago. The strike, however, is not expected to affect more critical airport operations like security screeners or air traffic controllers as these are unionized federal employees.
The Chicago Department of Aviation reportedly said it is “committed to ongoing dialogue with all parties,” minimizing any disruption to service that could be caused during the holidays.
Similar actions have been taken by workers at other airports like LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airports in New York but the disruptions were not major, the Associated Press reported.
O'Hare is one of the busiest airports in the country, handling 77 million passengers last year. It has about 190 gates, majority of which are held by American and United airlines as the Chicago airport is a hub airport for both.
Auto club AAA said it will be an especially busy Thanksgiving weekend with an estimated 3.7 million Americans flying Wednesday through Sunday.