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Second term: immigration, climate, foreclosures

Immigration reform, climate change, the foreclosure crisis: with some disappointment over limited progress on these issues over the past four years, local activists hope more will be done in President Obama’s second term.

While support for comprehensive immigration reform has broadened noticeably since the November election, immigrant rights groups are concerned over dramatically stepped-up deportations under Obama, which reached 409,000 last year.

They’ll march on Inauguration Day (Monday, January 21, starting at 11 a.m. at the Daley Plaza and rallying at 12 noon at the Federal Plaza) calling on Obama to declare a moratorium on deporations.

A moratorium would be a first step toward comprehensive reform, said Eric Rodriguez, executive director of the Latino Union of Chicago.

“We want the president to be on the right side of history,” he said.  “His second term will define his legacy.  Will he be the president who deported more people than any other in history, or the president responsible for championing inclusion and equality?”

Immigration raids are a constant threat in Chicago communities today, said Tania Unzueta of the Immigant Youth Justice League; just last week scores of local residents were picked up in raids on a factory and two gathering places for day laborers.  IYJL is working to support several families who have members in detention, she said.

“Obama says he wants to do the right thing and keep families together, but we aren’t seeing it in our communities,” she said.

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Workers mobilize on wage theft law

Low-wage workers will be trained in the state’s tough new anti-wage theft law – and workers with their own cases will file claims – at a training Saturday.

Sponsored by the Just Pay For All Coalition for worker leaders from the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos of South Chicago, Chicago Workers’ Collaborative  and Latino Union of Chicago, the training takes place at 10 a.m., Saturday, July 9 at CWC’s Chicago office, 5014 S. Ashland.

Joe Costigan, the new director of the Illinois Department of Labor, will discuss implementation of the law, and training will be conducted by staff from the Working Hands Legal Clinic, which drafted the law.

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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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