Airline Servicer Battles Union Over O’Hare Strike

CHICAGO (CN) – An airline servicer at O’Hare International Airport claims in a federal lawsuit that service workers’ strike demanding a higher wage is an act of “economic warfare” intended to compel the company to recognize their union.

Hundreds of workers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport went on strike Tuesday as part of a “Day of Disruption” at airports around the country planned by Fight for $15, a group advocating for raising the minimum wage.

The strikers include janitors, baggage handlers, cabin cleaners and wheelchair attendants, some of whom currently make minimum wage, which is $10.50 an hour in Chicago. Some of the strikers are represented by Service Employees International Union, Local 1.

Air Serv, a company that provides cleaning, baggage handling, and other passenger services to commercial airlines, filed a last-minute complaint against the union Monday in Chicago federal court, seeking to stop it from including Air Serv employees in the strike.

Air Serv claims Tuesday’s strike will “cause substantial disruption to airline operations” at O’Hare. It is unclear how long the strike will continue.

“Air Serv performs vital and necessary functions for several airlines at ORD, most notably United Airlines, the largest carrier operating at that airport. Thus, not only would the threatened job action put Air Serv’s own operations at risk, it would, if successful, have the effect of significantly disrupting United’s operations at ORD and elsewhere,” the company’s complaint states.

An SEIU spokeswoman told CNN last week that, on the contrary, the striking workers are not aiming to disrupt travel and the walkout is likely to cause only slight operational delays.

However, Air Serv says the strike has a secondary objective – to compel the company to recognize SEIU Local 1 as the representative of currently unrepresented Air Serv employees.

“Neither Local 1 nor the Air Serv employees at ORD may engage in economic warfare in support of Local 1’s efforts to obtain representation” for Air Serv’s unrepresented employees, the complaint states.

Air Serv insists that employees must fully exhaust all efforts to negotiate before they have any right to strike under the Railway Labor Act over rates of pay or working conditions.

Air Serv is represented by Lawrence C. DiNardo with Jones Day.

SEIU Local 1 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The union filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against Air Serv earlier this month, claiming the company is committing safety and health violations that put workers at risk.

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