Chicago Office Of Labor Standards Passes Workforce Committee
Workers Clear Final Hurdle before full Council Vote
For immediate release
CHICAGO–After a two-year campaign led by local workers’ rights organization Arise Chicago, on Tuesday, October 23rd, City Council’s Workforce Development and Audit Committee approved the ordinance to amend the municipal code to create an Office of Labor Standards. 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 ordinance which will benefit half a million workers, now moves to a full City Council vote on Wednesday October 31st.
As Arise leader Martina Sanchez, shared during the committee hearing, “From my experience I’ve learned that just passing laws is not enough. Many workers are suffering from wage theft, discrimination, harassment, and other abuse that causes both physical and moral pain, and damages workers’ dignity.”
Sanchez was a leader in winning the Earned Sick Time campaign based on her own experience of living without paid sick days. When her husband was hospitalized and she stayed with him, their household lost both incomes. Though she testified she was present today not just for herself, but for the many workers in her neighborhood and across the city.
Through tears, she pleaded with aldermen to think of their own constituents, such as a worker she recently spoke to, “Someone right now is suffering. He was working repairing roofs, in the cold, risking his life for over eight hours a day. His employer stole his whole week of wages. His wife is pregnant. How can they survive?”
Committee Chair Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40) confirmed with the Chair of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP), which will house the new Office of Labor Standards, that “When the Office investigates, and mediates or brings about a settlement, the City can and would include restitution for those aggrieved.”
Sophia Zaman, Executive Director of Raise the Floor–an alliance made up of eight local worker centers–voiced the need for City-community partnerships in order to best improve low-wage working conditions. “As an alliance of worker centers, we organize in low-wage sectors where the work is most precarious and contingent, and disproportionately held by women, immigrants, and people of color. Every day we see that illegal abuse of Chicago’s most vulnerable workers has become standard practice. This is true for low-wage workers across identities, industries, neighborhoods.”
“Oftentimes, these workers don’t have the protections of a collective bargaining agreement, so they rely on agencies to monitor workplaces and ensure their rights are respected. And in order for agencies to effectively enforce the law, they require the tacit knowledge workers have about workplace practices and conditions. But often, without a worker center bridge, low-wage workers are skeptical of placing their trust in government agencies. That’s why community partnerships are so important. We look forward to working with the new Office of Labor Standards to achieve our shared goals of ending workplace abuse and creating a healthy, stable economy for workers and businesses alike.”
Rosa Escarena, BACP Chair, agreed with the importance of community partnerships. “Our office is grateful for the input of Arise Chicago and Raise the Floor Alliance for thinking through how to design the new Office of Labor Standards within BACP, and we plan to continue these partnerships.”
Other workers shared stories of current violations of City ordinances and asked alderman to vote to approve the Office of Labor Standards, which would be able to investigate such employers.
Lamar Hendrix-Glass, a former Treasure Island worker shared how in addition to the store closing without properly notifying its workers, the company may also have violated the Chicago Earned Sick Time Ordinance
“I worked at Treasure Island grocery store in Hyde Park until its abrupt closing on October 28th, leaving my co-workers & I unemployed.”
“It wasn’t until workers from the closed North and Clybourn store were relocated to Hyde Park that I learned about Treasure Island’s “Paid Time Off” or PTO policy. One of the Clybourn co-workers told me about the app I could download from ADP, the paycheck company that showed my schedule and hours, and how much PTO I had earned. The company never told me about the app or PTO so hearing this news left me disturbed. I had been working there for months and not one manager brought that to our attention. As soon as I learned about the app tracking our hours and PTO, I told my co-workers. None of them knew about it either.”
“I even took a sick day earlier in the year, and wasn’t paid. It’s only now, that I see this may have been a violation of the Earned Sick Time Ordinance.”
Juan a member of Arise Chicago is currently experiencing wage theft, “I work at a restaurant in the West Loop. I began working there in April, when the city’s minimum wage ws $11/hour. The owner offered me $10. It took several conversations requesting the full minimum wage before she agreed to pay $11.”
“In July, when the city minimum wage increased to $12/hour, the owner did not raise our wage. Again, I had to have several conversation just to be paid the full minimum wage.”
“Then in September, the owner decided to may be as flat salary rate as an independent contractor to not pay employment taxes., I’m paid for my 72 hours per week, but I’m not paid time and a half for my 32 hours of overtime. So the owner is stealing $312 from me every paycheck.
“I talked to my co-workers about this wage theft, but they all think that either there’s nothing we can do, or are afraid of losing their jobs. That’s why it’s important for the city to open the Office of Labor Standards. So that if one worker like me reports a problem, they can investigate and benefit all workers.”
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) gave a statement highlighting how the Office of Labor Standards seeks to address such wage theft and worker abuse. “As we were closing the Working Families Task Force and working to pass paid sick days, Rev. C.J. Hawking from Arise Chicago, who was on the Task Force, stressed that we needed to talk not just about the new law, but also about enforcement. And immediately, myself and others began working with Arise to think about how to make sure the worker protection ordinances we passed in City Council truly benefited the working families we aimed to benefit.”
Dr. Linda Forst, M.D., MPH, MS, Senior Associate Dean and Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at UIC’s School of Public Health shared the benefits of a higher minimum wage and paid sick days on public health. “Low wage work has been shown to have a negative impact on health. It is often dangerous, putting workers at risk for illness and injury. Low wage workers tend to be women, African Americans, Hispanics, low educated individuals, and immigrants. The average age of low wage workers is 36, contrary to the misconception that it is young workers who are most affected.”
“I strongly urge the passage of this progressive legislation. The Office of Labor Standards will improve the health of a most precious resource—the Chicago Workforce. At the same time, it will assure sound business development. But most importantly, it is a demonstration of the moral health and leadership of this great City at a time when we sorely need it.”
The final speaker was Arise Chicago’s Worker Center Director, Adam Kader. “As we anticipate Chicago’s economy to continue to grow, we must ensure that workers share in its prosperity. For it is the workers who not only produce our economy; it is they who also produce our City’s culture and make it great. Chicago’s culture is made by its neighborhoods. And those neighborhoods reflect the workers who live and labor in them. The Office of Labor Standards is an affirmation of the value working people in Chicago and represents a commitment to workers’ well-being.”
*Photos of speakers and the hearing available upon request.