Chicago Red Jackets

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The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that 29 “airport customer service representatives” may lose their jobs as part of the City of Chicago’s effort to reduce its spending.

The problem is that these airport employees are more than just “greeters” or “customer service representatives.” They are also translators for the many visitors from other countries that go through the Chicago O’Hare Airport each year.

The employees are known as “red jackets” because of their eye-catching uniforms, and they have been part of the scenery in Chicago O’Hare Airport for the past four decades. From the article, it appears that each employee speaks at least 3 languages.

Why would the city of Chicago consider throwing away employees with these valuable skills? It all comes down to money. The city is facing a $469 million financial shortfall this year. However, upper level management in the same division as the greeters gets to stay… and they actually get raises.

If you’ve ever travelled abroad in a country where most people don’t speak your language, you know what a wonderful service it is that these greeters provide. When something goes wrong with your travel plans, it’s an incredible relief to be able to find someone who can understand you and who is willing to help.

So, who is going to provide this service now? Stephanie Burzawa, one of the employees quoted in the article, asks:

“How is Chicago going to be there to help travellers, or welcome people to the Olympics here [in 2016], if they are rolling up the welcome mat for people getting off the planes?”

Apparently, Chicago’s Olympic visitors will be warmly greeted by…a phone booth. According to the Tribune article, “the city has placed “translation phones” at five locations at the airports.”

“Translation phones” instead of real people?

Hopefully, the city will reconsider. Even the U.S. Transportation Security Administration chief in the airport is quoted saying that:

“It would be a great loss to the airport . . . to lose this valuable resource.”