Mihalopoulos: Clout-rich janitor firm accused of job offer mess


The city contractor that allegedly “reserved jobs for individuals based on political considerations” is United Maintenance Co. Inc., according to City Hall sources and the alderman whose office blew the whistle on the firm.

Led by former Chicago cop Rick Simon, United Maintenance is nearing the end of a five-year deal that’s paid it nearly $110 million to provide janitors at O’Hare Airport.

In a report released Monday, Inspector General Joe Ferguson leveled the patronage accusation against an unnamed contractor, and he called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to prohibit the company from doing business with the city, saying it broke city rules and violated its contract with the Chicago’ Aviation Department.

OPINION

Ferguson’s office said the contractor sent an email in 2014 to an employee of an alderman — who also was not identified by the I.G.’s report — offering to set aside 25 jobs for people whose names were to be put forward by that alderman’s office.

The 12th Ward alderman, George Cardenas, says he was the member of the City Council whose office fielded the email three years ago from United Maintenance. And Cardenas says it was his top aide who immediately reported the incident to the inspector general.

“My office flagged it and turned it over to the I.G., like we’re supposed to,” Cardenas told me at his City Hall office.

Simon declined to comment.

You might remember Simon for providing a soft landing spot to Garry McCarthy last year, not long after the mayor abruptly forced out the longtime Chicago Police Department superintendent. McCarthy’s year-old security firm is headquartered at Simon’s offices in the South Loop.

The jilted top cop has been on a multi-media rage bender against the mayor for months now — even though his buddy Simon continues to be a major contractor for the Emanuel administration, at least for now.

The mayor shrugged off concerns from labor unions and some aldermen when his administration awarded the lucrative, five-year O’Hare contract to United Maintenance in late 2012.

Initially, the deal was to pay as much as $99.4 million. According to the city’s website, the contract has been repeatedly amended to pay more money to United Maintenance. As of last week, the city had spent about $109.6 million on the deal.

Some workers allege the company has maximized profits by cheating them. Without admitting wrongdoing, United Maintenance agreed last year to shell out nearly $850,000 to settle a federal wage-theft lawsuit brought by its employees at O’Hare.

The Emanuel administration has stuck with United Maintenance, even as Rivers Casino in Des Plaines got rid of Simon’s company in 2015, after the Better Government Association reported it was working at the casino.

Now, the company’s future at O’Hare could be in jeopardy because of Ferguson’s probe. According to the I.G.’s report, the Emanuel administration’s Department of Procurement Services has “initiated debarment proceedings” against the contractor.

The inspector general’s report also called for banning a supervisor from the firm from doing any work under the deal at the airport because he allegedly failed to cooperate with the investigation.

The spokeswomen for Ferguson’s office and for the Procurement Services Department declined to comment.

There was a time, of course, when it was standard operating procedure in Chicago machine politics to reward loyal campaign workers with public payroll jobs. No better way to thank an effective precinct captain than a spot at the taxpayer-funded trough, with nice wages, health benefits, a pension.

Despite federal civil court decrees against patronage, it continued unabated — until some of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s aides landed in prison for rigging hiring and promotions more than a decade ago.

I’ve since wondered whether patronage really died or just went underground. The case involving United Maintenance feeds the rampant, long-running speculation that private vendors for the city secretly give jobs to political hacks, keeping patronage alive.

At least one alderman, though, says what’s past is past.

“Stuff like this has no place these days, and we were going to have no part of it,” Cardenas says of the offer he refused from United Maintenance.

“We don’t handle the hiring process for anybody. Especially not city contractors.”



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