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Labor & Worker Rights Tue Aug 02 2011

Community Members, Workers Protest Alleged Wage Theft at Albany Park Grocery Store


On Monday afternoon, union members joined with community members outside of Doña Mari #2 in Albany Park to protest stolen wages. Miguel Brito, a butcher at the grocer for 16 years, was paid below the minimum wage for many of the years he worked at the grocery store and is trying to receive the past three years of stolen wages, an amount that is $7,570 total. Brito is longer employed at Doña Mari.

As people marched outside of the store, carrying signs saying "Alto a los Abusos," which translates to "Stop the abuse," and holding large cardboard and aluminum foil butcher knives with signs saying "Stop chopping wages," some community members walked around the circle and continued their day, others tried to get into the store.

During the course of the protest, Doña Mari #2 had its open sign lit and most of the lights in the store appeared to be on, although the door was locked and it seemed as though no one was in there.

The goal of the protest, according to Adam Kader, program director for Arise Chicago, is to make progress in Brito's wages being paid back. Wage theft is illegal and employers can face penalties for not paying their employees their full-wages, including overtime. In addition to being paid below the minimum wage, Brito was not paid for overtime. According to Kader a Department of Labor claim will not be filed and all of Brito's stolen wages are not being asked to be paid back, only three years worth. Kader explained that to request all of the stolen wages to be paid back would slow down the process and require legal action.

Brito, who currently is not employed by the Albany Park store, is taking action after finding out how he could do so.

"I was always aware of it," said Brito, whose words were translated by Kader. "I wasn't aware of how to protest it."

Brito went to Arise Chicago and presented his case to them and the group informed him of how to get his lost wages.

According to information given to the press, Brito tried to resolve the situation on May 4 of this year, but was unable to do so. The attorney for Gilberto Gutierrez, the owner of the store, is offering to pay $3,924 to Mr. Brito, which would 52% of what Brito is asking for.

"We've been at this for sometime and they haven't responded properly," Brito said.

Brito is currently unable to work after suffering an injury from a fall while working at the store. The owner of the store allegedly misinformed him that they would be unable to pay for his injury, directing him to go to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital on the Near West Side.

A man identifying himself as Mr. Gutierrez declined to comment when reached at the store.

According to a press release issued by Arise Chicago, it is not uncommon for employers in industries with low wages to not follow the basics of employment law, particularly when employees are immigrants.

As the protest ended, community members and members of other unions spoke before the decently sized crowd and thanked them for attending.

"When we fight, we win," said James Thindwa of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff while addressing the crowd.

Brito and Arise Chicago plan on continuing to fight for the stolen wages to be paid until they are paid back to him.

Update, 8:56 pm August 2: Earlier this post said that Kader viewed asking for all of Brito's wages to be returned as unreasonable when the main problem is that asking for all of the stolen wages to be returned would result in the process taking longer and a legal action being taken. This has been changed since Kader's point was misunderstood and the paraphrasing of what he had said reflected the misunderstanding. I am sorry for this error.

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