Chicago Workers Make History Creating New Labor Standards Office
Celebrate City’s new powers to investigate, fine bad employers to improve local working conditions
October 31, 2018
CHICAGO--Low-wage workers celebrated in Chicago today, winning the unanimous City Council vote to create a local Office of Labor Standards, culminating after two years of research and organizing led by Arise Chicago. The ordinance, based on low-wage workers’ experiences working at jobs where employers do not follow the City’s Minimum Wage and Sick Time laws, creates a community-informed city office specifically to enforce those laws. This moves follows other cities in creating similar offices to enforce local worker protections, including New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. The Office, which will benefit 500,000 workers, is set to open in 2019.
The office will be charged with enforcing all current and any future Chicago workplace ordinances. It’s duties include responding to worker complaints, launching investigations, recovering stolen wages for workers, fining guilty employers, and issuing an annual report on activities and recommendations for improved office effectiveness and efficiency.
After winning the City Council vote, workers were thrilled and celebrated their victory.
Juan Sandoval, a restaurant worker and Arise member who testified at the Workforce Development and Audit committee in support of the ordinance shared,
“It’s very important that the City create this Office, for workplaces like mine. My employer didn’t want to pay the full minimum wage and does not pay overtime, for my 32 hours of overtime. I talked to my co-workers, but many are afraid to speak up. With the new Office of Labor Standards if just one worker like me reports a violation, the office can investigate the whole workplace to benefit all of the workers. This Office creates an effective way for the City to improve the workplaces and lives of many workers.”
“I’m proud to be part of the campaign to win the Office of Labor Standards. It will assure that employers follow the law, and that those who don’t will be held accountable.”
Sandoval currently works at a west loop food court/restaurant and reports that the owner only paid the full Chicago minimum wage after several requests. He also reports that while working 72 hours per week, he is not paid the overtime rate for his 32 hours of overtime. By not paying correct overtime, his employer steals $400 from each paycheck.
A statement from Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40), Chair of the Workforce Development and Audit Committee said of the new Office, “The overwhelming hope is for this Office to become a sounding board for employer and employee inquiries as they relate to Chicago’s existing and future labor laws. A primary focus for the office will be to promote the understanding of the City’s existing labor laws through educational outreach and improve compliance by providing technical assistance to employers and employees in these areas. Our hope is that this Office will work in collaboration with both public and private entities to identify gaps in existing labors laws and improve enforcement of those laws to better protect Chicago workers.
“Over the last several months, the City departments of BACP, Law and Budget, along with Arise Chicago and Raise the Floor Alliance, have worked together in what I feel was a truly collaborative fashion to develop the framework for a successful Office of Labor Standards for Chicago’s workforce. These efforts are something the individuals of these organizations can be proud of and something I look forward to seeing put into action in 2019.”
This sentiment was echoed by former Treasure Island worker Lamar Hendrix-Glass. Hendrix-Glass is one of hundreds of Treasure Island workers who were left jobless with little to no notice of the store’s closing. It was only after he began organizing with Arise Chicago around Treasure Island and then the OLS that he learned that his former employer may have violated the city’s Earned Sick Time Ordinance.
“Employees need to know that the City has our back if our employers aren’t upholding their law.”
“I’m here today to celebrate the Chicago Office of Labor Standards to make sure that no one has to lose a day’s wage to stay home and recover from an illness like I did.”
“Having an office dedicated to enforcing the City’s laws that protect workers like myself makes me feel like I’m more than just a clock-in number. It makes me appreciate each and every loyal, hard, dedicated worker and gives me a sense of equal and fair treatment when it comes to the rules and guidelines needed to uphold a company’s policies.”
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26), Vice Chair of the Workforce Development Committee spoke about his commitment to ensuring the Office of Labor Standards lives up to its mission.
“A year ago I met with leaders from Arise. And I asked, do we really need an office to regulate the business so that they don’t take advantage of the workers? I thought business were responsible enough to pay the wages they promised to pay to their workers. When I learned the scope for the problem, that is shameful. It is a shame that there are so many businesses in the city of Chicago that take advantage of their workers.”
“I am so proud to a co-sponsor of this Chicago Office of Labor Standards. And I’m going to make sure that moving forward, that once we open the Office, it is really doing what it’s supposed to do--go after those perpetrators taking advantage of our workers.”
Alderman John Arena (45) agreed, “With the right resources, the Office of Labor Standards will ensure workers have an advocate.”
“Businesses do not succeed without workers. Good business is good employee rights.”
Arise Chicago Worker Center Program Director, Adam Kader highlighted the significance of the Office, not just for Chicago but for the larger workers’ rights movement.
“We are proud to announce today that the community has designed and won an agency that will work for workers. In a time in which higher levels of government are antagonistic to workers’ rights, cities like Chicago are showing the way for workers to exercise power in their local communities. We are proud to join New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle, and we hope more cities will follow.”
Arise Chicago member Martina Sanchez helped lead the campaign to win paid sick days based on her own family’s experience not having access to sick time. Since then she has also been a leader in the push for the Office of Labor Standards. Reflecting her past four years of organizing on both campaigns she shared “The Office of Labor Standards is the best opportunity we have as workers in Chicago to be heard and represented in a dignified way.”
Fellow lead-sponsor to Ald. O’Connor, Ald. Ameya Pawar (47), in Council Chambers, before the vote highlighted the importance of aldermen and the city working with groups who are on the ground in order to come up with the most effective solutions to local problems, such as wage theft.
“I’m so grateful to the folks at Arise Chicago for their partnership. I worked with Arise in 2013 to pass the Anti-Wage Theft ordinance. We began working on the idea of an enforcement office immediately after concluding the Working Families Task Force, when we made recommendations for an earned sick time ordinance. Once we passes Earned Sick Time, this was the next logical step--to make sure the laws we passed really do benefit the workers they were meant to impact.”
The new Office was led by Arise Chicago, and backed by 64 community and labor organizations (listed below).
Current Worker Protection Ordinances to be enforced by the Office of Labor Standards:
Arise Chicago led the effort to win an Anti-Wage Theft Ordinance in January 2013. The ordinance allows Chicago’s Business Affairs and Consumer Protection office the ability to revoke or deny the renewal of business licenses of employers found guilty of wage theft.
In December 2014 City County passed a city minimum wage ordinance starting at $10/hour in 2015, above the state rate of $8.25/hour. The city wage incrementally increases to $13/hour in 2019. The current Chicago minimum wage is $11/hour and will increase to $12/hour on July 1, 2018.
Arise Chicago and the Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition won passage of a Paid Sick Days Ordinance in June 2016. Under the new law, workers can earn up to five paid sick days per year in order to care for their own or a family member’s health. A landmark victory benefiting 460,000 workers, Chicago paid sick days can also be used in cases of domestic violence and public health emergencies, including school closings. The ordinance will go into effect on July 1, 2017.
Original OLS Co-sponsoring Aldermen:
Arena (45), Austin (34), Burnett (27), Cappleman (46), Cardenas (12), Cochran (20), Curtis (18), Dowel (3), Ervin (28), Foulkes (16), Harris (8), Hairston (5), King (4), Laurino (39), Lopez (15), Maldonado (26), Mell (33), Mitts (37), Moore (49), Moreno (1), Muñoz (22), O’Connor (40), Osterman (48), Pawar (47), Quinn (13), Ramirez-Rosa (35), Reboyras (30), Reilly (42), Sadlowski Garza (10), Santiago (31), Sawyer (6), Silverstein (50), Solis (25), Sposato (38), Taliaferro (29), Villegas (36), Waguespack (32)
The Office of Labor Standards Campaign is endorsed by:
Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment: Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 308; American Friends Service Committee; Bricklayers District Council 1; CAIR Chicago; Canon Law Group, P.C.; Chicago Laborers District Council; Chicago Federation of Labor; Chicago Federation of Musicians; Chicago & Midwest Region Joint Board Workers United International Union; Chicago Painters District Council 14; Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters; Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America; Community Activism Law Alliance; Dowd, Bloch, Bennett, Cervone, Auerbach & Yokich; Health & Medicine Policy Research Group; Illinois Public Health Association; International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 2; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 9; International; Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134; International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 743; International; Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 777; Jewish Council on Urban Affairs; The Karmel Law Firm; Metropolitan Family Services; Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund; Mujeres Latinas en Acción; NABET/CWA Local 41; National Economic & Social Rights Initiative; National Domestic Workers Alliance; National Nurses United; Operating Engineers Local 399; Potter Bolaños LLC; Raise the Floor; Reclaim Chicago; ROC-Chicago; SAG-AFTRA Chicago ; Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; SEIU; Healthcare Illinois Indiana; Sheet Metal Air Rail Transportation Local 73; United Auto Workers Region 4; United Electrical Workers Western Region; United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881; United Steelworkers District 7; Warehouse Workers For Justice; Women Employed; Zakat Foundation of America