BREAKING: New DHS Process Offers Immigration Relief to Workers in Labor Disputes
January 13, 2023
Undocumented Workers in Labor Disputes Can Apply for Temporary Immigration Relief
Newly released Department of Homeland Security Guidelines detail process with federal, state, and labor enforcement agencies to better enforce employment laws
Advocates cite concerns and positive developmentsRead more
El Milagro Workers Announce $1.3 Million in Wage Increases, New Demands / Trabajadores de El Milagro Anuncian $1.3 Millones en Aumentos Salariales y Nuevas DemandasShare
RELEASE: Historic New Worker Protections Celebrated by Chicago Orgs / Protecciones históricas para trabajadores están celebradas por organizaciones de Chicago
Illinois Unidos calls on industries with Latino workers to comply with COVID-19 work safety protocols
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Shelly Ruzicka, Arise Chicago
773-251-5003 | [email protected]
Illinois Unidos calls on manufacturing, food packaging, restaurants, and other industries with high Latinx worker populations to comply with COVID-19 work safety protocols and procedures
With continuous safety complaints and the increase in COVID-19 cases in Latinx communities, Illinois Unidos urges industries to prioritize the health and safety of their workers and comply with federal and Illinois existing COVID-19 work safety rules and regulations
Chicago, IL – Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, essential workers in food processing and manufacturing industries have faced the unfathomable decision between going to work and putting their health at risk, or staying home and putting their job and income at risk. Many of these workers face unsafe working conditions, intimidation from their employers, and no sick benefits, preventing them from making a safe choice for themselves and their families.
Illinois Unidos (formerly the Illinois Latino COVID-19 Initiative) calls on these industries to reevaluate the treatment of their workers and to follow all state and federal health and safety workplace guidelines. Illinois Unidos asks government officials to use their oversight power to ensure workers in these industries are protected, safe and empowered to keep themselves, their families, and their communities healthy without retribution from their employer. See a list of recommendations below.
“Essential doesn’t mean expendable, but that's how corporate giants have consistently treated working people throughout the coronavirus pandemic,” said Congressman Jesús G. “Chuy” García. “Workers are facing the double burden of doing their jobs in uncertain times while fighting for labor rights and protections. We need safer working conditions, especially in industries where Latinos are disproportionately endangered, like manufacturing and food processing.”
“No one should have to risk their life or their loved ones to put food on the table or pay their rent, but during COVID-19, many in my district are doing just that. This is not the time for CEOs or board members to be getting richer. Instead, they need to prioritize the health and safety of our workers, pay them fairly, give them proper protection on the job, and allow workers to negotiate without the threat of being fired for demanding safe conditions,” said Congressman García.
Latinos make up a significant proportion of the food processing workforce in Illinois, Recent data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts Illinois in the top 6 states in total number of COVID-19 cases among workers in meat and poultry facilities between April and May 2020 (26), total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among workers (1,029), and total number of COVID-19-related deaths (10).
In many cases, workers in these industries carry the burden of having to be proactive and seek testing on their own time, as most lack access to paid sick days. Lack of safety protections in the workplace puts them in a dangerous position to potentially contract the virus. In addition, many employers are failing to notify employees when a person in the factory or workplace has tested positive for COVID-19, thereby making it nearly impossible for workers to know if they have come into contact with someone with the virus. This is worrisome as workers are not only putting their health on the line, but also risking their families’ well-being, and potentially spreading the virus without knowing it. In sum, employer inaction and failure to fully protect workers are contributing to the continued spread of the virus.
Jorge Mújica, Strategic Campaigns Organizer at Illinois Unidos member organization, Arise Chicago stated, "Why are there rising numbers of COVID-19 infections in the Latino community? Because Latinos disproportionately work in low-wage, unsafe jobs. They were unsafe jobs before the pandemic. Now they are dangerous and even deadly. Bad employers aren't protecting their workers' lives. Period. And that's why the pandemic keeps spreading. Bad employers need to be held accountable."
When asked what it looks like on the ground, Mújica said, “We are hearing from over 160 workers every week at Arise Chicago; up from about 25 per week before the pandemic--primarily all Latino immigrants who are scared to go to work, but who can’t afford not to work. Bad employers who didn't protect workers' health before the pandemic aren't doing any better now, even when workers' lives are at stake. If employers don't fully implement protocols and precautions to create safe workplaces, we encourage workers to strike for their lives."
The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) released a report that says that immigrants comprise 20 percent of Illinois’ agricultural workers, food and beverage manufacturing and processing workers, grocery wholesalers, and workers in retail grocery and other food and beverage stores. According to the American Immigration Council, the origin country of 36 percent of immigrants in Illinois is Mexico. It is impossible to deny the massive negative impact COVID-19 is having on the Latinx community.
Additionally, the largely Latinx migrant or seasonal farmworkers and landscapers are extremely vulnerable to respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19 due to the nature of the work they perform. The quality of their jobs requires them to work under harsh climate conditions in the middle of the fields, when harvesting, and in nurseries. These populations are critical essential workers during the COVID-19 crisis with the same urgent needs for protections as those in other industries and the most vulnerable. These workgroups labor in close proximity to each other for prolonged periods to operate the field, harvest, collect, transport the produce, and when sharing other communal areas (e.g., workstations, break rooms, and transportation or housing).
Such continued exposure increases the transmissibility of COVID-19 when in contact with infected co-workers. The exposure to the virus in these groups mainly occurs by respiratory droplets from person-to-person. Other forms of contagion in these groups are similar to meatpacking and production worksites--contaminated surfaces or fomites shared tools, equipment, utilities at the workspace, and the poor access to clean water for hygiene purposes throughout the day. However, a distinctive form of transmissibility of the virus in these groups has been attributed to migrant workers when moving from farm to farm, spreading the virus between communities. Similar to other highly populated Latinx industries, employers failing to protect their workers is leading to increased virus spread.
In late May, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation that would increase access to workers’ compensation benefits for those who were deemed “essential.” But even with these added protections, workers in food processing and packing, manufacturing, and clothing industries are still facing an uphill battle from their employers. Many employers continually fail to provide adequate PPE and social distancing guidelines, and they pressure workers to stay in dangerous conditions, according to reports from worker centers like Arise Chicago. Many employers are failing to provide solutions to combating the virus; in many cases in these industries, they are the problem.
“Crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces, such as many of the workspaces where Latinos are largely employed, means risk of prolonged contact with unknowingly infected persons,” said Dr. Marina Del Rios, an emergency physician and member of the initiative. “Close-contact environments facilitate transmission from a small number of cases to many other people, especially if hand hygiene was not performed and masks were not used where physical distancing was not maintained. As we see more outbreaks of COVID-19 related to indoor activities, there is a growing concern that aerosol transmission may be possible, increasing the importance of reducing the amount of time spent in crowded indoor spaces and maintaining physical distancing and PPE such as masks.”
The Initiative has identified the following urgent steps and calls on industry leaders and government to take action:
- Employee Testing, Safety, and Tracking Practices
- Request employers to conduct testing at each respective workplace to detect COVID-19 and prevent spread, or partner with one specific testing site to expedite testing and results.
- Add workplace data points at all Covid-19 testing sites to identify problem workplaces, track specific industry positivity trends and prevent spread in these workplaces and industries.
- Health and Social Services Support
- Connect employees to community-based primary care health centers/clinics, social service organizations to support individuals and families in need of services to access these resources during the pandemic.
- Employer Safety Guidelines and Reporting
- Continue to demand strict health and safety workplace guidelines and request appropriate government entities to fine employers if guidelines are not fully followed.
- Require all employers to provide employees proper PPE, handwashing, and workstations/workspaces that promote physical distancing.
- Institute proper cleaning, disinfecting, and sanitizing practices of all workspaces, surfaces, and shared equipment.
- Require employers to inform ALL employees and local health departments within 24 hours of any reported COVID-19 cases to stop community spread.
- Require workplaces to shut down for 14 days, with pay, after any reported case(s) so that workers can quarantine and prevent virus spread.
- Provide employees and visibly post information about COVID-19 safety practices, resources, and support services.
- Training Services and Practices
- Mandate training on prevention of COVID-19 infection for all employers and their.
- Train managers and supervisors to identify and address signs of mental stress, offering resource lists to their employees.
- State and City Workplace Safety Policies and Procedures
- Ensure all levels of public health departments are empowered to shut down workplaces and fine employers not following guidelines. (In the same way that Mayor Lori Lightfoot has shut down crowded bars and restaurants, city/county/state agencies including public health departments must be able to shut down any workplace that is endangering lives).
- Ensure that prevention and mitigation policies and actions, such as required business closures or limits on numbers of people in a given space, include a focus on workers, not only customers.
- Provide employees who test positive paid leave during isolation, care and recovery.
- Guarantee protection for whistleblowers and any workers reporting unsafe conditions; and fine employers who retaliate against workers who report unsafe conditions or who request PPE or any other improvement to protect worker health.
- Create a state-level task force to address worker needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Provide guidance regarding which state and/or local government agency to contact if compliances are being met (e.g. contact Attorney General Office, Illinois Department of Public Health).
Arise Chicago is an organizational member of Illinois Unidos.
Illinois Unidos (formerly the Illinois Latino COVID-19 Initiative) is a consortium of over 50 Latino elected and appointed officials, together with health professionals, and representatives of professionals and community-based organizations. The initiative aims to present one united voice in stopping the spread of COVID-19 in our communities while addressing related public health issues and the devastating economic impact of COVID-19.
The Initiative as a group has continued to expand and has established a bilingual (Spanish) website IllinoisUnidos.com to share our work and COVID-19 related resources with the public, particularly, the Latinx community.
Contact Shelly Ruzicka at 773-251-5003 for more information or to interview participants including Latinx workers / Organizers / Health Experts / Elected Officials / Community Stakeholders.
Minimum Wage Increases in Illinois, Chicago, Some Suburbs July 1
Worker organizers express the need for minimum wage earners to “Check Your Check”
For immediate release: 6.30.20
773-251-5003 | shelly[at]arisechicago[dot]org
ILLINOIS--On July 1, 2020, the minimum wage will increase in Illinois, some Cook County suburbs, Chicago.
With increases at different levels, it is critical for minimum wage workers to know the details of the changes. In addition to the straight minimum wage, the tipped minimum wage also increases at each level.
See Arise Chicago’s handouts in English, Spanish, and Polish for charts outlining the wage rates at each level of government, including overtime, rates for tipped workers, and exceptions in the Chicago law.
Arise Chicago’s Executive Director Rev. C.J. Hawking highlighted the importance of the minimum wage increase in this time, “"Many workers are returning to their jobs after months away from a regular paycheck. Ensuring full payment of the new minimum wage is vital to make sure workers don't fall further into poverty.”
Starting this Wednesday, workers in Illinois must be paid at least $10.00 per hour, and $15.00 per hour of overtime.
Eighteen Cook County Suburbs in Cook County increase the minimum wage to $13.00 per hour., with overtime at $19.50 per hour.
In Chicago, for the first time, there are two wage rates, depending on the employer size, as well as for domestic workers (home cleaners, nannies, care workers) and some youth workers. Chicago companies with 4-20 workers must increase their minimum wage to $13.50 and $20.25 for overtime, and businesses with over 20 workers to $14.00 per hour and $21.00 for overtime.
Arise Strategic Campaigns Organizer, Jorge Mújica connected the need for the higher wage to the ongoing pandemic, saying "This wage increase comes at a critical time, when workers risk their health and safety going to work. We know that immigrant workers have been particularly hard hit by job loss and Covid-19 cases at open businesses. It is the employer’s responsibility to pay properly and protect workers’ health and safety. But sadly, we know from experience that workers often have to take things into their own hands to be paid properly. Minimum wage workers across Chicagoland and Illinois should check their check to make sure employers are paying the full new rate. And any workers not being paid properly should report to the appropriate government agency, or call a worker center like Arise."
Reminding both workers and employers that domestic workers are covered by the minimum wage across the city and state, Arise Chicago’s Domestic Worker Organizer, Ania Jakubek stated, “Ever since our coalition won the Illinois Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which went into effect on January 1, 2017, nannies, home cleaners and care workers, have been included in the minimum wage. Until then, historic sexism and racism that has excluded domestic workers from federal employment law allowed legal exploitation of this majority female workforce. It is so important for domestic workers to know their rights, and for all home employers to pay at or above the minimum wage in Illinois, Chicago, and Cook County.”
Indeed, at a time when our city, state, and country are grappling with racial disparities, it is important to look at the minimum wage through a race and gender lens.
Arise Chicago’s Director of Member Organizing, Margarita Klein emphasized the connection between low-wage work, the pandemic, and race and gender injustice, “The minimum wage increase is also a race and gender justice issue. We know that the majority of minimum wage workers are women, immigrants, and workers of color. We know that low-wage jobs are the least safe and least regulated. We know that Black and Latino communities have been hardest hit by Covid-19. It’s all related. We need higher wages and better protections for low-workers.”
*Arise Chicago organizers are available for interview in English and Spanish upon request.Read more
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.
For immediate release
Low-wage Immigrant Women Call Out Workplace Sexual Harassment
Release video to share stories, train workers
While celebrities, elected officials, and heads of corporations remain in the headlines, low-wage workers–especially women of color and immigrants--remain on the frontlines of sexual harassment and abuse at work. At the same time, low-wage working women are on the frontlines of organizing for change and fighting back against sexual harassment.
The country is in an important cultural moment, with brave women speaking out against men in powerful positions. At the same time, low-wage workers who face high levels of harassment and abuse often remain in the shadows. Arise Chicago and other local and national worker organizations are proud to support low-wage immigrant women and women of color as they speak out against sexual harassment and challenge common power dynamics in the workplace .
To bring to light the stories of women from across low-wage industries, worker members from Arise Chicago created a video on their own experiences of sexual harassment. Arise members shared stories and advice in hopes of reaching other women–to help break societal stigma and fear, and to educate workers on what to do in cases of harassment on the job.
Arise worker leader, Martina Sanchez sees the growing outcry from workers as a turning point in the fight against sexual harassment. “There are thousands of women who remain silent out of a variety of fears--fear of what will be said about them, fear of losing their job, or worst of all, fear they won’t be listened to and nothing will change. But this moment is the beginning of a new struggle.”
Arise Chicago board member and domestic worker leader, Isabel Escobar agrees, “This is a very sad time for our country, but also a very important time. A door has opened for more women like me to speak out.” Escobar also emphasized the importance of low-wage workers to speak up, “We want to let people know that this doesn’t just happen to famous women. Abuse is not only committed by famous men in high power positions. Sexual harassment happens every day to low-wage workers, to immigrants, to women of color. And bosses, supervisors, feel they have power over our work, our income. Therefore, many women are afraid to speak up or afraid no one will believe us.”
Escobar herself faced multiple instances of sexual harassment as a home cleaner. Yet, she remains determined to make change for herself and other workers. “I encourage other women to speak up. Nothing will change if we stay quiet. Now is the time to talk. Now is the time to be strong and unite to end sexual harassment at work.”
Arise board member, and worker leader, Rocio Caravantes who also experienced harassment at work echoes the sentiment that now is the time for women to act. “If we speak up now, we will be creating a better path forward for the next generation of women workers.”
*Contact Shelly Ruzicka to arrange interviews.
Arise Chicago is a worker right organization that educates, organizes, and develops the leadership of low-wage workers–primarily immigrant women–across Chicagoland. Arise Chicago was founded in 1991 to support workers organizing to creating better workplaces through unionization, and opened its Worker Center in 2002 to support non-union, primarily immigrant workers to recover stolen wages and end workplace abuse. Since 2002, Arise worker members have taken action to recover more than $7.5 million in stolen wages and compensation. Since 2013, Arise Chicago and its worker members have been on the forefront of creating systemic change for low-wage workers, by winning the historic Chicago and Cook County Anti-Wage Theft Ordinances, and in coalition winning Chicago and Cook County Paid Sick Days and the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Arise Chicago is currently leading the effort to open a Chicago Office of Labor Standards to ensure city protections for workers are effectively enforced.
For immediate release: February 23, 2017