|« Chicago: The Second-Rate City?||Negotiating with Doom in the Schools Debate »|
Labor & Worker Rights Wed Jun 20 2012
By Shelly Ruzicka
On Saturday, June 2, Noemi Hernández led a group of over 30 community supporters to confront her former employer at Gislex Bridal, located in the Little Village Discount Mall. Noemi is a member of the Arise Chicago Worker Center who first came to the center with concerns about working conditions at the bridal shop. After talking with Worker Center organizers, they discovered she was owed over $9,700 in wages from her 10 months working at Gislex. Because the store's owner pays its workers $55-60 per day for a 10 hour shift, five days a week, Noemi was earning about $6 per hour, far below the $8.25 minimum wage in Illinois, and no overtime. After Noemi presented a letter from Arise expressing concern about the wages and working conditions at Gislex, the employer fired her. The owner, Maribel Flores, has refused to meet and has not returned phone calls from Arise, prompting Noemi and the Worker Center to hold a more creative action to get the employer's attention.
Leading a mock bridal party decked out in veils, dresses, ties, corsages, boutonnieres and flower bouquets, Noemi carried a handmade sign that asked customers not to support a business that abuses its workers. One supporter carried an over-sized price tag for the $9,700 owed to Noemi. Another had a giant receipt for Gislex with line items for the unpaid minimum wage, overtime and last week of wages.
The group entered the Discount Mall to present a letter, the price tag and receipt to the shop owner. A Gislex worker told the crowd that the owner knew they were there and was leaving. This marked the second time owner Maribel Flores had run away from Noemi and Arise when they tried to meet with her. The group then paraded through the Discount Mall handing out flyers to curious customers and chanting, "Queremos justicia en La Villita!" or "We want justice in Little Village!" Then Noemi and the "bridal party" led a picket line outside, chanting, "Follow your vow, pay Noemi now!" and "What do we want? The minimum wage! When do we want it? Now!" all the while also engaging mall customers.
When the group processed back across the street to where they started, Arise organizers and Noemi debriefed with supporters. Noemi said that while she first felt nervous approaching her former workplace, the large group of supporters energized her. One of her friends who attended the action was extremely passionate, saying, "It's so important we did this to show all the other workers, especially Latinos, that they can stand up. It's wrong that this is happening, but even worse that it's in our own Latino community, right on 26th Street."
While the owner was not present to accept the demand letter or to speak with her former worker, Noemi said she felt good about the action. When asked if they thought the owner still heard the group's message demanding justice, everyone unanimously replied with a resounding "Yes!" Each person also expressed commitment to support Noemi at additional actions if needed.
Shelly Ruzicka is the operations director for Arise Chicago. Cross-posted from the Dignity at Work Blog.