Travelers can still grab lattes at O'Hare International Airport but a walkout by restaurant workers Thursday on one of the busiest day of the year shows the divide between the union and employer HMSHost.
The picket affected businesses at Terminal 3 but did not close down any retailers, officials said.
"We really hope this strike is enough to bring the company to its senses," said Noah Carson-Nelson, a spokesman for UNITE HERE Local 1.
"These actions will not disrupt operations at O'Hare International Airport in any way," Chicago Department of Aviation Deputy Communications Commissioner Lauren Huffman said.
Meanwhile, HMSHost spokesman Eric Herman called it "unfortunate that Local 1 seems determined to inconvenience travelers despite our continued progress at the bargaining table."
The labor action is a one-day event, Carson-Nelson said, adding both sides will meet again in January. It affects shops including Starbucks and Rick Bayless' Torta Frontera.
The union covers more than 1,200 workers who include waiters, baristas and bartenders at the airport. Employees said they are concerned about low wages and unaffordable health care.
The employees' contract expired in August. "We hope this strike urges the company to settle their contract," Carson-Nelson said.
Over 4.1 million passengers will surge through O'Hare during the holiday season with Friday expected to be the busiest with 225,000 passengers at O'Hare and more than 70,000 at Midway International Airport.