CHICAGO – Hundreds of O’Hare International Airport workers have voted to go on strike ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Service Employees International Union Local 1 officials said Thursday that about 500 workers have committed to strike. Union spokeswoman Izabela Miltko-Ivkovich said the strike “will definitely take place in the coming days,” though she didn’t specify which day it will start.
The workers involved have been trying to organize with the union’s help. They work mainly for private contractors at the airport.
“They don’t expect to shut the airport down,” SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times (http://bit.ly/2g0mq1X ). “That’s not what they’re trying to do. Oh, there will be disruption.”
Balanoff said a walk out could slow but not shut down airport operations. He said what workers are trying to do “is get the powers that be to hear their voice.”
The workers who plan to strike include baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants. They are seeking a $15 per hour wage.
It wasn’t immediately clear how such a strike would affect operations at O’Hare, which is one of the nation’s busiest airports.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement that it doesn’t anticipate any disruption in service.
Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst and former airline executive, said much depends on what types of jobs are affected, whether airlines or the private contractors can assign other employees to fill in and on how many workers will be willing to cross a picket line.
Workers have taken similar actions at other airports, including LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airports in New York, creating disruptions that “ranged from noticeable to marginal,” he said.
Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert and economics professor at DePaul University in Chicago, noted the city has a few days to try to come up with a “plan B.”
“This will be a mass headache, but a crisis it is not,” he said.
O’Hare has about 190 gates and is a hub airport for both American and United airlines, which hold the majority of those gates.
Auto club AAA predicts it will be an especially busy Thanksgiving weekend of travelling.