by Micah Uetricht
If you worked somewhere for 16 years only to find out that you had been paid below the minimum wage the whole time, what would you do? Kick yourself for not knowing the law and pledge not to be duped next time? Or fight for what you are owed according to the law?
Miguel Brito, a member of Arise’s mesa directiva, chose the latter. He worked as a butcher at Doña Mari’s #2 in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago for over a decade and a half; after learning about his rights on the job through his involvement with Arise and his attendance at various workshops, he realized that during those years, he was consistently paid below the minimum wage and was not paid overtime for the many weeks he worked over 40 hours. Arise contacted his former employer about his back wages, offering a settlement of less than 20 percent of the actual money Miguel was owed, according to Arise’s calculations.
A settlement of less than one-fifth of the actual money a worker is owed is quite a generous offer. But, speaking through their lawyer, the store’s owner refused the amount, insisting on a figure that was half of that 20 percent. This figure was not satisfactory to Miguel, and Arise called for a protest outside of Doña Mari’s #2, at 3518 W. Montrose.
The action, on Monday, August 1, drew a large crowd of about 25, attended by community members from the Centro Autonomo in Albany Park, the Stand Up! Chicago coalition, Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, and others from around the city. Chanting “Pay your worker!” and “Stealing isn’t funny, pay back the money!” protesters picketed in front of the store while talking to curious onlookers from the neighborhood about Miguel’s demands.
Neighbors were no doubt unaccustomed to pickets and bullhorn-amplified chants on their block–particularly when those protesters are brandishing giant fake meat cleavers reading “Stop Chopping Wages”– and many came over to discuss why Arise was protesting the store. Doña Mari’s #2, for its part, immediately locked its door when protesters arrived; employees inside refused to speak to members of the media who requested interviews (though one did come to the door as the protest was winding down to flip his middle finger at us).
Doña Mari’s #2 is a small store that is no doubt an important part of its surrounding community–many Albany Park residents depend on the store for groceries and other basic needs. But paying workers the minimum wage is a basic requirement of any employer, no matter the business’s size. The community members we talked to on Monday understood this, and many expressed their support for Miguel’s struggle. It’s easy to imagine the store’s image suffering greatly in the community if its owners continue to refuse to pay their former worker what he is owed.
Since the protest, Arise organizers have been in contact with the store’s owner, though no settlement has been reached. If Doña Mari’s #2 continues to refuse to pay Miguel what they legally owe him, Arise may be hitting the streets of 3518 W. Montrose again.
Watch the video from Monday’s action:
– Micah is an Organizer at Arise Chicago.