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Pay What You Owe Workers Or You're Out, City Tells Airport Food Company

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Pay what's owed or you're out – that is the city's ultimatum to a company that officials say is not paying some of its employees what they're owed.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov first reported on this story in October. And as Kozlov reported Tuesday evening, the clock is ticking.

It has been seven weeks since the head of Flying Food Inc. got a letter from Ald. Matt O'Shea (19th) putting him on notice. O'Shea warned the company to pay employees the required $14.10 an hour or else.

"We made it clear we intend to follow up on this," O'Shea said.

Not only did Chicago's Aviation Department follow up with a "notice to cure" last Friday, it is not threatening to terminate the airline meal supplier's city license agreement if Flying Food does not apply.

O'Shea said a union estimates that 271 Flying Food employees are owed $316,000 in back pay alone – from a company that analysts say makes almost $200 million a year.

Workers such as Juana Peña say every missed penny counts.

"They don't care about workers," Peña said. "They don't care about our lives."

Flying Food chief executive officer David Cotton was elusive Nov. 1, and continued to be on Tuesday. O'Shea said the CEO did attend a meeting with him and aviation officials a month ago.

"It was a very tense meeting," O'Shea said.

But Flying Food execs made no promises.

"They had a different understanding of the agreement than CDA and Law officials did," the alderman said.

In past letters, Flying Food Group has claimed employees at its Schiller Park plant are exempt from the city's wage requirement, despite doing business at O'Hare.

Jan. 10 is the deadline for the company to make changes. The Department of Aviation sent letters to at least two other companies, also asking for proof they are paying workers correctly.

In a statement, Flying Food Group CEO David Cotton said:

Flying Food Group, LLC categorically denies that it is in violation of the Certified Service Provider License Agreement (CSPLA). Each and every Flying Food employee who travels to and works at O'Hare International Airport has always received and continues to receive hourly wages that meet or exceed the minimum wage set by the CSPLA. For those Flying Food employees who remain on-site at our facility in the Village of Schiller Park and do not travel to O'Hare, or any other part of the City of Chicago for their job activities, the City of Chicago lacks the legal authority to set a minimum wage level requirement.

We believe this action by the City of Chicago represents an inappropriate involvement and attempt to unfairly influence Flying Food's negotiations with UNITE HERE.  Our negotiations with UNITE HERE are proceeding well, with additional sessions scheduled for early 2020. The City of Chicago should allow the collective bargaining process to continue and conclude without this interference.  We look forward to continuing the bargaining process with Unite Here in the new year.

If the City of Chicago unilaterally acts and terminates Flying Food's CSPLA, it will be violating Flying Food's legal rights, be contrary to Federal law, exceed the City's legal authority, and irreparably harm Flying Food's ability to conduct its business operations.


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