Emanuel's Birthday Gift: A Protest Outside His Home

O'Hare employees say new contractor doesn't pay a living wage

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got an unexpected present for his 53rd birthday Thursday: a big gathering outside his home.

The prayer vigil included dozens of janitors and other employees at O'Hare International Airport upset with the mayor's recent action to give a cleaning contract to an entity they say doesn't pay a living wage.

His administration earlier this month awarded a $99 million contract to United Maintenance. The new firm replaces Scrub, Inc., whose contract expired June 30.

"This is about the mayor taking care of his millionaire friends, and this is about the mayor taking away middle class jobs," said Service Employees International Union Local 1 secretary-treasurer Laura Rueda.

The protesters held 52 candles in honor of Emanuel's birthday and sang Happy Birthday in English, Spanish and Polish, the languages spoken by the workers.

They called on the mayor to walk a day in their shoes and reconsider the deal.

A city spokesperson said the deal was made in an open and fair process "to select the contractor with the focus on getting a fair and efficient deal for taxpayers."

"United Maintenance is working with the existing employees to offer them opportunities. The City is confident that the quality of service at the airport will be high," the spokesperson said.

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