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The Mechanics

Wage Theft Tue Jun 26 2012

Another Year Passes for Congress Hotel Strikers

Originally posted to my site - The Political is Personal

One Day Longer. That's what they say on the picket line when you ask when a strike will end. The dedication to the cause continues on until a just contract can finally settle a dispute between employer and workers. For nine years now, workers from Congress Hotel in Chicago have walked the picket line in a struggle for fair wages, benefits, and working conditions.

By now most of the workers have moved onto others jobs but remain invested in the fight. They spend an hour or two before and/or after work on the picket line and come home to their families. You may ask a common question, why?

"I hope it helps them," said Imelda Martinez, a former Congress Hotel housekeeper. "We fight for our benefits, for fair pay, and justice."

Martinez has struggled to balance family life, work at another hotel, and the strike. Her son served in the Army and did a tour in Iraq. She hopes the strike will end one day on a positive note.

Workers in other Chicagoland hotels know a fight is also coming their way. Just weeks after Unite HERE Local 1 and Congress Hotel celebrate a tenth anniversary, the union will be embroiled in contract negotiations with the other hotel chains. Mark your calendars now. August 31, 2013.

The fight pushes on not for a few dozen service workers at one hotel but for a city full of service workers. Workers that ensure a clean place to stay for the entire tourism industry that Chicago needs. A unionized workforce provides rules to keep employees safe as much as it provides guidelines on keeping rooms clean. Nonunion places overwork their employees and push housekeepers to clean a room in 15 minutes or less. Disgusting if you ask me.

Chicago housekeepers were making just $8.83 an hour when the strike began but now earn $15.70 an hour, according to Unite HERE.

"The sacrifice the strikers have made to go out on the line daily speaks to not only their dedication, but to the intense belief these individuals have for what they're doing," said Henry Tamarin, Unite HERE Local 1 President, in a statement. "The strikers know third dedication to the boycott will help working families now and in the future."

In 2003, the Congress Hotel tried to freeze employee wages, eliminate healthcare benefits, and demanded the ability to outsource the work done by union employees. It was a power grab that the workers refused to allow as they walked out on June 15, 2003.

"[The hotel owner] doesn't want to pay anything. We have to keep fighting. Every time it is the same thing but we want to get a contract. We've been fighting for eight years. We are not going to give up and say alright we lost," declared Guadalupe Perez in an interview last fall.

Chicago-based rapper, Young General, performed his song dedicated to the efforts of the strikers. He teamed up with Columbia College students to produce the music video below:

Continue reading this entry »

Aaron Krager

Labor & Worker Rights Mon Mar 07 2011

Carwashero Beats Wage Theft at Local Car Wash

By Jacob Lesniewski

Sometimes a potential campaign at Arise Chicago reaches legal obstacles, an evasive employer, or incomplete evidence.

Alfredo and Rev. Marich

And sometimes, it all comes together Hannibal Smith from the A-Team style. Arise Chicago’s latest action to improve conditions of work in the carwash industry on Monday, February 28th was one of those moments when it all came together. Car wash worker Alfredo led a delegation of allies, including IBEW Local 134 member and Arise volunteer Denise Sebo, Ted Sautter and two brothers from the United Steel Workers, two Arise Chicago Worker Center members and staff to Four Seasons Carwash at 5900 W. Addison in Chicago. Alfredo joined the Worker Center because he was owed two weeks’ worth of wages and decided to take action.

After the “A – Team” leafleted and spoke to both workers and customers, the owner came, angrily demanding we move to the sidewalk, attempting to intimidate union allies taking pictures, and attempting to negotiate only with Adam, Worker Center Director. And then he caved, but not before attempting one last hail mary, that was quickly deflected by legal advisory board member Amy Epton and Rev. Claire Marich of Downers Grove, who is rapidly becoming the Mother Jones of carwash workers in Chicago. Rev. Marich states, "The work you do at Arise is so important and I am pleased to be a small part of it. It uses my chaplain skills of reading people in crisis situation, so I am beginning to understand it as a really exciting extension of my ministry." Alfredo says, “Bosses can’t abuse their workers.” He wishes for other workers to overcome fear to act and believes that his experience shows that. ”Si se puede.”


It couldn’t have worked out better. A worker taking action for justice. Religious allies. Worker members of Arise Chicago. Allies from the legal community. Union members.

This is what a movement looks like...

Alfredo joined by supporters at the car wash

- Jacob is an Organizer at Arise Chicago

This post is cross-posted from the Dignity at Work Blog a project of ARISE Worker Center.

Ramsin Canon

Wage Theft Tue Apr 27 2010

Wage Theft Crime Spree: What Will Stop It?


Victor Hernendez addresses a rally in the state capital in Springfield. Hernendez was a victim of wage theft.

You work assuming you'll be paid, but too often, workers are simply denied what they're owed. It happened to Kim Kambra who worked at Jericho Products in Springwood. "They didn't pay me. I worked over 55 hours a week and they paid me for one week out of the last 10 weeks. My house went into foreclosure and I lost the legal rights to my house even though I still live there."

Kambra was one of many Jericho employees who were not paid. Computer programmer Bill Van Dusen worked for 12 years at Jericho but for three months in 2008 and another three months in 2009, Dusen was not paid. "I had to use the money we saved for our kids' education to pay our bills."

Jericho went beyond not paying their employees. The company "stole our deductions for health insurance and child support. They collected that but didn't pay it to the proper person they needed to pay it to," according to Van Dusen.

However, Jericho's owners have been paid handsomely. Kevin Lynch, one of the owners of Jericho Products would have wild venison for his dogs and chrome parts for his car delivered to the company while three employees' homes went into foreclosure.

Continue reading this entry »

Matt Muchowski / Comments (1)

Wage Theft Thu Apr 08 2010

More Than $7 Million Stolen From Locals Every Week

A group of researchers released a report [PDF] this week finding that local low-wage workers are the victims of wage theft to the tune of more than $350 million a year, or $7 million a week. The researchers, primarily from the Center of Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, surveyed over a thousand workers from low wage industries, including those paid "under the table," undocumented workers, and those considered "independent contractors". This shocking finding is just the most appalling; the study is rife with data demonstrating widespread criminal exploitation of employees throughout the Chicagoland area. A shocking number of workers are criminally denied vested rights in the workplace, including denial of overtime and breaks, a lack of accounting of wages owed and paid, and sleight-of-hand to avoid providing legally required vacation or paid time off. This failure to enforce these laws and protect these people is grievous, but not surprising: it is part of a pattern of coddling employers.

Continue reading this entry »

Ramsin Canon / Comments (2)

Wage Theft Wed Mar 31 2010

The New Sheriff In Our Town

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was in Chicago today, on a tour of the US promoting the Department's new "We Can Help" initiative. The initiative aims to raise public awareness of the national problem with wage theft by employers. Solis has announced she will be tripling the staff of the Department's Wage and Hour Division, and begin aggressively pursuing employers who steal from their employees. When Solis was confirmed in February of 2009, she announced that there was a "new sheriff in town" and pledged that labor law would begin to be enforced.

The Bush administration had focused their Wage and Hour resources on larger employers, but staff size was minuscule and the division was overworked and unable to pursue complaints seriously.

Wage theft costs Illinois workers hundreds of millions of dollars a year; in New York City the number is in the billions. It is a serious crime treated lightly ("They're lucky to have a job in the first place"), a function of the propaganda that employers are charitable "job creators" and everyone else fortunate vassals. Cities across the country are beginning to look seriously at local legislation to punish irresponsible employers who cheat their employees and undercut the vast majority of responsible employers.

Secretary Solis appeared in the East Terrace room of UIC's student center, overlooking Hull House, to announce the campaign. Pointing to the city's skyline, Secretary Solis reminded the crowd that it was the DOL's "moral responsibility" to advocate for those "work in those buildings by day, and clean them by night."

If you feel your employer has cheated you out of overtime, mandated breaks, or any wages, contact the DOL.

Progress Illinois posted the following video and have a more complete write-up.

Ramsin Canon

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Parents Still Steaming, but About More Than Just Boilers

By Phil Huckelberry / 2 Comments

It's now been 11 days since the carbon monoxide leak which sent over 80 Prussing Elementary School students and staff to the hospital. While officials from Chicago Public Schools have partially answered some questions, and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool has informed that he will be visiting the school to field more questions on Nov. 16, many parents remain irate at the CPS response to date. More...


Substance, Not Style, the Source of Rahm's Woes

By Ramsin Canon / 2 Comments

It's not surprising that some of Mayor Emanuel's sympathizers and supporters are confusing people's substantive disputes with the mayor as the effect of poor marketing on his part. It's exactly this insular worldview that has gotten the mayor in hot... More...

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