For immediate release: February 23, 2017
Workers, Alderman Announce Local Labor Office Campaign
Unite to implement Chicago worker protections, on wave of national momentum for local enforcement
CHICAGO—Today workers’ rights organization, Arise Chicago, surrounded by aldermen and community allies announced a campaign to open a Chicago Office of Labor Standards to enforce the city’s employment laws—currently anti-wage theft, minimum wage, and paid sick days ordinances. Such an action would join Chicago to the national movement of passing worker protections, and moving to strong local enforcement to ensure those protections are implemented.
Janie Fine, PhD, the national leading expert on labor standards enforcement, of Rutgers University attended the event and emphasized the need for co-enforcement—for the city to partner with trusted groups like worker centers on the ground already in touch with low-wage workers.
“We have a crisis of employment law enforcement in many of our cities.”
She signaled that local enforcement offices are part of a growing national trend, and that partnering with worker organizations has proven effective.
“Other cities have labor enforcement offices: Seattle, NYC, San Francisco, the state of California, and others. This is the new norm.”
“Workers and workers organizations know things government will never know. So enforcement requires worker participation”
Arise Chicago’s Executive Director highlighted the evidence of non-compliance with current laws across Chicago “A 2009 UIC study found that over $1million per day is stolen from low-wage workers in Cook County.”
“Imagine for a moment what it would be like if we never enforced our parking laws.
Drivers could ignore all ‘No parking’ signs and park wherever they like with no consequences. Our city would be thrown into chaos. That is what has happened to low-wage workers. Their lives have been thrown into chaos.”
Arise Chicago Worker Center member Maria Leon talked about such chaos in her life.
“I worked as a server for over 5 years at two restaurants in Chicago, owned by the same employer. He paid us under the Chicago minimum wage, stole our credit card tips–only paying them when we asked repeatedly–and did not pay overtime. He thinks he can underpay his workers, because he knows people need the work. He tells workers, if they don’t like the pay, they can leave. But really, he should be held accountable, and pay his workers what they are owed.”
Ms. Leon stressed that enforcement is needed for all Chicago’s employment laws. “If there are employers like mine who did not pay the city minimum wage, there will be employers who do not implement paid sick days when they go into effect. We need an office dedicated to protecting workers’ rights and enforcing all of our city’s employment laws.”
Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa (35) shared how, after being approached by Arise Chicago, he supported a worker facing wage theft in his ward.
“I am happy to support workers in my ward. And I’ve done that with Arise Chicago members to recover wages. But we need stronger citywide enforcement, connected to community groups on the ground.”
He expressed hope for moving forward.
“Chicago won’t have the first Office of Labor Standards. But working with experts, groups on the ground, and workers, we can have the best Office of Labor Standards.”
Ald. George Cardnas (12) spoke of his own experience growing up in Little Village, the son of Mexican immigrants who experienced workplace problems.
“The Latino community is hard hit by wage theft. An Office of Labor Standards to enforce Chicago employment laws would improve our local community, and the city economy.”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) echoed the need for policies to be effective.
“If we are going to pass policies that benefit workers, we also need to enforce them.”
“Enforcing our current local laws is about basic decency and human rights. Other cities have enforcement offices. It’s time for Chicago to catch up and open an Office of Labor Standards”
Ald. John Arena (45) spoke about the need for the city to be open for workers to feel safe reporting violations.
“When workers aren’t paid right or are denied legal benefits, they need a place to find support.”
“It’s important to empower workers to use the benefits they are entitled to, and that city council passed.”
Bob Reiter, Chicago Federation of Labor Secretary-Treasurer agreed.
“If employers steal workers wages, we need a way to get that money back”
“City council has passed some important employment laws. The next logical step is an Office of Labor Standards.”
Worker interviews available upon request in English and Spanish.
Video of the press conference available here
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