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May Day march against deportations

With immigration reform finally under discussion in Washington, thousands of Chicagoans will be marching on May Day, focused on ending deportations and demanding legalization for all immigrants.

Immigrant rights mobilizations have become a May Day tradition in Chicago in recent years, and this year’s supporting coalition is larger than ever, said organizer Jorge Mujica.

They’ll meet and rally at 2 p.m. at Union Park, Ashland and Lake, marching to Federal Plaza, Jackson and LaSalle, for a rally at 4:30 p.m.

At 2:30 p.m, the Chicago Federation of Labor and church and labor groups will mark May Day — an international holiday commemorating the immigrant-led movement for an eight-hour day in Chicago in 1886 — at the Haymarket Monument, Randolph and Desplaines, before joining the march to the Federal Plaza.

Dramatically ramped-up deportations — 400,000 a year under the current administration — have “really galvanized the community and highlighted the need for reform,” said Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.  “They have affected many, many people in our communities.”

Dragnet raids, supposedly aimed at criminals, have swept up asylum seekers, lawful permanent residents with minor infractions, and immigrants with no criminal record, many of whom spend months in detention without judicial review, human rights groups say.

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Bucking trend, garment workers win union victory

While union membership is at historically low levels, with organizing campaigns mired in an increasingly hostile legal terrain, workers at a Northwest Side garment plant won union representation in a swift victory last week.

One factor was the support of a local group that helped pioneer the worker center movement, which utiliizes community organizing strategies to assist low-income and immigrant workers with workplace issues.

Workers at Artistic Stitches Inc., joined by leaders from Arise Chicago, will discuss the significance of their victory at a media event Thursday, January 31 at 12:45 p.m. outside their plant at 2639 W. Grand.

The mainly Latino packers and machine operators voted last week to join Workers United, a union with roots in historical garment and textile industry unions that’s affiliated with SEIU.

Stitches workers contacted Arise after they staged a spontaneous walkout to protest working on Thanksgiving without holiday pay, said organizer Jorge Mujica.  He explained their protections from retaliatory firings under labor law.

But when they started discussing their problems in the workplace,”there were so many different issues that we could never solve them one by one,” Mujica said. “It would take months, years.”  He told them, “You guys need a union.”

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Coalition questions G8 costs, calls for community investment

Costs for the G8/NATO summit in May could be much higher than current projections from the city, according to a labor-community coalition which is calling for a Chicago G8/NATO Community Fund.

“We think that $65 million is very, very, very low, and based on the experience of other host cities, the actual cost is going to be much higher,” said Elizabeth Parisian, a researcher with Stand Up Chicago.

She said the 2010 G8 summit in Huntsville, Ontario, ended up costing over $1 billion, the bulk of which went to security costs. Costs of housing, transportation and entertainment totaled about $180 million, she said.

Like the upcoming summit, the 2010 G8 was a joint summit (that year it was with the G20), and as expected for the upcoming summit, there were big protests.

Stand Up Chicago is working on developing a more detailed independent cost estimate, Parisian said, but getting information is difficult.

“There’s been no transparency from the city,” she said, adding that “we need to know how much it’s going cost and who’s contributing.”

Last week the Chicago Reader reported that a $55 million federal grant described by officials last year as funding planning for summit security training is actually a routine grant that supports the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications. Security cost estimates will not be released before the summit, OECM told the Reader.

Funding for community needs

In a letter to Mayor Emanuel last week, community, labor, and civil rights groups asked him to call on corporations contributing to the summit host committee to provide matching donations to a community fund “which can be used to keep libraries and mental health clinics open, as well as to provide direct investment in Chicago’s many struggling neighborhoods.”

Six mental health clinics are slated for closing in April for a cost savings of $2 million. Library hours were recently cut in order to save $1 million.

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Working at the car wash — for tips

Last year we wrote about wage theft at car washes – “it’s almost an industry standard,” one labor advocate said – as an example of the many ways we unknowingly encounter the phenomenon of wage theft in our daily lives.

On Tuesday, clergy and community supporters will visit a car wash owner on behalf of a former employee who says that he was paid only in tips.

Arise Chicago workers center has made numerous attempts to meet with the business owner.  Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. they will hold a press conference in a nearby parking lot at 2551 W. Cermak and then try to meet with the boss.

‘An amazing convergence’

It’s been a remarkable week in Chicago, a nonstop whirl of protests targeting the financial industry and government collusion with corporations, and demanding action on jobs, housing, and schools.

Coming Friday:  a rally for “jobs not cuts,” with MoveOn, Stand Up Chicago, Chicago Jobs With Justice and Occupy Chicago joining forces, at noon at the Federal Plaza.

Occupy Chicago gets much credit for capturing the public’s imagination – and for their 24-7 commitment and important organizational innovations.  But it was community groups and unions that staged some of the most dramatic and creative actions here this week.

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Study: Wage violations cost millions

Minimum wage and overtime violations are not confined to marginal employers but are “prevalent in key industries and occupations that are at the heart of Chicago’s regional economy,” according to a new study.

Nearly half of the low-wage workers surveyed reported pay-related violations in the previous week, averaging $50 out of weekly earnings of $322, according to “Unregulated Work in Chicago” from the Center for Urban Economic Development at UIC.

With over 310,000 low-wage workers in Cook County, that could amount to $7.3 million in lost wages due to employment law violations in the Chicago area — each week.

The study found that foreign born workers were 1.5 times more likely than those born  in the U.S. to face wage violations, and that among U.S.-born workers, African Americans were 27 times more likely than whites (and 3 times more likely than Latinos) to face workplace violations.

Over a quarter of workers surveyed reported being paid below minimum wage; two-thirds who worked overtime didn’t get the required time-and-a-half pay; and of those who worked outside their regular shift, 69 percent said they weren’t paid for it.

Three-fourths of childcare workers reported minimum wage violations.

Pervasive workplace violations keep working families in poverty, reduce consumer spending and tax revenues, and force responsible employers into unfair competition, threatening standards throughout the labor market, said researcher Nik Theodore.

He called for strengthening legal standards and stepped-up enforcement.

CUED and local worker advocacy centers will discuss rising workplace violations and initiatives to address them – including “high-road” economic development campaigns – at a conference tomorrow, Thursday, April 8, 1 to 4 p.m. at UIC Student Center, 750 S. Halsted.

It comes as a growing movement to fight wage theft charts new victories.  Last week U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was in town to announce stepped up enforcement after eight years of neglect.  And last month the Illinois State Senate voted unanimously for SB 3568, a bill that would increase employees’ recourses against wage theft and establish criminal penalties for repeat offenders.

The movement grew out of a multitude of workers centers established in the past decade to organize and empower low-wage and immigrant workers.  A number of them were represented at the study release today, and will be at tomorrow’s conference – and will join the Just Pay For All Coalition in Springfield on April 14 to lobby for passage of SB 3568 by the House.

They include:

Arise Chicago, part of a national network of workers centers of Interfaith Worker Justice, works with immigrant workers including Latinos and Poles including workers in factories, construction and maintenance.  The group recently mapped law-breaking by employers in 43 of Chicago’s 50 wards.  (IWJ’s Kim Bobo is author of the authoritative book on the subject, Wage Theft.)

Centro de Trabajadores Unidos – Immigrant Workers Center of South Chicago – which recently won a campaign to get a major local merchant to clean up his act and sign an employer’s code of conduct.

Chicago Workers Collaborative reaches workers through workers rights trainings at churches and commuity centers, has worked with street vendors, day laborers and fast food workers, and is also organizing temporary workers in the northwest suburbs (including at Duraco, who they charge workers are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages).

Korean American Resource and Cultural Center has a workplace justice campaign to educate Korean American workers and small business owners and promote solidarity among Korean, Latino, and African American workers.

Latino Union works with day laborers at temporary agencies and on street corners on the Southwest and Northwest Sides, with a workers center in Albany Park which facilitates fair hiring practices for construction day laborers.

Restaurant Opportunities Center – Chicago (CHI-ROC) works with front- and back-of-the-house staff of restaurants, organizing against wage theft and providing training and job placement; chapters in other cities have opened their own restaurants.  The group released a survey of the restaurant industry in Chicago; a majority of workers surveyed reported workplace violations, as In These Times reported



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