Aldermen question O’Hare contract

By Angelica Sanchez

In September 2012, the city awarded a five-year O’Hare International Airport janitorial contract to South Loop-based United Maintenance Co. Now, allegations against the company have prompted five aldermen to ask Chicago’s Inspector General to launch an investigation into United Maintenance and its practices.

Recent Chicago Sun-Times reports revealed that the head of the company, Richard Simon, failed to disclose during the bidding process that he sold 50 percent of his company to investors in December 2011, a violation of a city regulation requiring bidders to provide up-to-date ownership information before bidding on public contracts. In a Jan. 16 letter to the Inspector General, five aldermen requested an investigation of the $99.4

million contract.

“When we discovered that the ownership of United Maintenance was not what they had disclosed, we asked the Inspector General to investigate on the city side who knew what, because obviously the ownership of the business is very important when we are awarding a contract,” said Alderman

Ricardo Muñoz (22nd Ward).

Joining Muñoz in the complaint are aldermen Roderick Sawyer (6), Scott Waguespack (32), Nicholas Sposato (36) and

John Arena (45).

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has defended the contract and has no plans to void it, despite several protests in the months of November and December 2012, according to Emanuel spokesman, Tom Alexander.

“From day one, we said that this is a fair and transparent procurement process,” Alexander said.

When United Maintenance took over in December 2012, the company already servicing O’Hare, Scrub Inc., was ousted, leaving 300 workers without jobs, according to Laura Garza, secretary treasurer for Service Employees International Union Local 1.

“Right before Christmas they lost their jobs, and it’s been devastating

for them,” Garza said.

Garza said the union was first concerned when reports of United Maintenance’s alleged mob ties surfaced in local newspapers and broadcast outlets, including an executive’s federal prison sentence for racketeering charges.

“Our position is they violated the bid process and the mayor should put this up for bid,” Garza said.

United Maintenance was asked to comment but declined. However, in a Dec. 14, 2012 press release, United Maintenance claimed it would rehire more than 100 of the 300 Scrub Inc. employees who lost their jobs.

The actual number of employees rehired thus far was 38, not 100, according to Izabela Miltko, communications specialist for SEIU Local 1. The press release also stated that United Maintenance would offer rehired employees greater benefits than Scrub Inc.

One rehired employee, who chose to remain anonymous to avoid retribution, said United Maintenance has not yet followed through with those promises.

“They still haven’t clearly talked to us regarding insurance,” the employee said. “We still don’t know how much it’s going to cost us, and they mentioned a pension plan, but they have yet to tell us about it.”

The employee’s salary also decreased from $15.50 to $11.90 an hour, he said.

In the Dec. 14 press release, United Maintenance said its employees are not represented by a union, but the company respects its employee’s rights to organize. In December, the Better Government Association was briefly involved in an investigation of the O’Hare contract.

“The city says there is no conflict here, so case closed,” said Andy Shaw, president and CEO of The Better Government Association, in an email. “This comes up periodically and is handled differently every time. Our bottom line is that it creates the appearance of a possible conflict, and we’re a good government watchdog group, so that’s why we raised it. Now, it’s up to the administration or the inspector general to look at it and decide what’s what.”