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On Dec. 11, 2011, the 136 workers of Rolf’s Patisserie in Lincolnwood, Ill., were unceremoniously fired without even a day’s warning. They were paid their final checks four days later–only to have them bounce.

Rolf’s workers began organizing with Arise Chicago to demand that their former boss, Lloyd Culbertson, pay them what they are owed under the law: their final checks and 60 days severance pay, the latter of which is guaranteed to them under the federal WARN Act.

Yesterday, Rolf’s workers gathered to announce a partial victory. After organizing to pressure Culbertson to pay them what they are owed, workers have begun to receive the payment for their final bounced checks and their accrued vacation pay. The fees they accrued at currency exchanges and banks, however, remain unpaid; more importantly, they still have not received their WARN Act pay. Rolf’s workers announced that they remain committed to fighting for all the pay owed them under the law.

 

Footage from the press conference: 

 

 

For pictures, visit our Flickr page.

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By: Jacob Lesniewski

The need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level is even more pressing as immigrants face the hodgepodge of state and local legislative efforts and federal enforcement programs that vary from county to county.  The passage of   “Dream Acts” in Illinois or Connecticut is offset by the passage of  “Nightmare Acts” in Georgia or Alabama.  Instead of national leadership and thoughtful opinions from pundits we are left with divorced from reality musings on the necessity of E-verify by Ross Douhat of the New York Times.  This need for comprehensive immigration reform and the danger of enforcement-only programs like E-verify is clear from the daily lives of immigrant and non-immigrant workers.  Restrictive and frankly racist laws passed recently make the tragically flawed assumption that documentation status is something easily and simply ascertained with minimal interruption to the daily lives and workings of communities and families.  This is true of E-Verify, even if we assume its 40% error rate is somehow overcome in some blissful future by a bureaucracy that still takes between 13-14 years to process citizenship applications for Mexican nationals.  The status quo or enforcement only approaches have the effect of snaring all those who look or act “undocumented” regardless of their documentation status in their web of restriction and punishment.  Looking or acting undocumented is usually a pretty standard package of being Latino, Spanish-speaking, and working in a low-wage job.

For one Arise-Chicago member, Jose (a pseudonym) a naturalized citizen of theUnited States whose first language is Spanish, the consequences of “looking undocumented” are personal and significant.  Jose works in the back of the house at a restaurant and fits whatever other parameters of the profile of an “undocumented” worker one can invent.  For this member, as well as for so many others in his situation, the consequences of fitting the profile means abuse, discrimination, and job loss. The restaurant that Jose works at is a prestigious local chain, with locations in the city and the suburbs.  In order to avoid paying overtime for employees working in multiple sites, one manager made all the “undocumented-looking” workers change their social security numbers in order to continue working at that location.  Jose complained, was told to comply or be fired, and was caught changing his number (as his manager demanded) and fired by the company’s mainoffice.  Fired for obeying a manager’s order that assumed he was just another “illegal” working in the kitchen of an expensive restaurant, where the price of a dinner is equal to the daily wage of the “obviously illegals” working to wash and scrape the leftovers.

So when you hear from Lamar Smith, Congressman from Texax as he introduces a mandatory E-Verify bill in the House this week say that those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear, or from others who “just want people to obey the law” remember Jose, remember the reality of weak worker protections, uneven application of laws and regulations, and the racist assumptions of law enforcement agents and bosses that makes it just a bit more complicated and problematic for millions of workers.

-Jacob is an Organizer at Arise Chicago Worker Center

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From Progress Illinois

In Wisconsin, a Dane County Circuit Court judge has ruled against Republican lawmakers. The judge ruled they violated an open meetings law when they passed the controversial bill to take away collective bargaining rights for state workers. The bill passed without the 14 Democratic state Senators present because they had famously fled the state to prevent a vote weeks earlier.

This ruling effectively voids the bill, but the state Supreme Court may pick up the case.

SOURCES

Reposted from Progress Illinois

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By Danny Postel

On April 18, Arise Chicago and Interfaith Worker Justice teamed up with the political scientist Paul Apostolidis to explore this question at a thought-provoking event for his new book Breaks in the Chain: What Immigrant Workers Can Teach America about Democracy held at the Harold Washington Library Center.

An audio recording of the event is available here, but it doesn’t do justice to the multilayered texture of the presentation, a PowerPoint rich with photographs and quotations from workers, from advertisements, from social theorists, and other sources. A video will be available soon — check back for that.

As the publisher’s website says of Breaks in the Chain, the book:

investigates the personal life stories of a group of Mexican immigrant meatpackers who are at once typical and extraordinary. After crossing the border clandestinely and navigating the treacherous world of the undocumented, they waged a campaign to democratize their union and their workplace in the most hazardous industry in the United States. … Examining their personal narratives, Apostolidis recasts our understanding of the ways immigrants construct and transform social power. … Linking stories of immigration to stories about working on the meat production line–the chain–he reveals the surprising power of activism by immigrant workers and their allies and demonstrates how it can-and should-promote social and political democracy in America.

Following the event, Shelly and Gabriela Rivero (Arise Chicago's Worker Center Member Organizer ) and I joined Paul for this photo outside the library.

Left to right: Arise Chicago Worker Center Member Organizer Gabriela Rivero, Interfaith Worker Justice Communications Coordinator Danny Postel, Political Scientist Paul Apostolidis, and Arise Chicago Operations Director Shelly Ruzicka outside the Harold Washington Library Center on April 18

I was honored to give the introduction at the event. Shelly Ruzicka of Arise Chicago provided a wonderful overview of the work that organization does defending the rights of immigrant workers in the city.

If you’d like to read the book, please consider purchasing it online from the Seminary Co-Operative Bookstore, one of the event’s co-sponsors, by going here. It’s a compelling and relevant book.  Also check out Paul’s recent blog post “Working conditions, the battle at Tyson, and the Wisconsin moment”.

-Danny is Communications Coordinator at national organization, Interfaith Worker Justice

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Wal-Mart… mounted an aggressive defense to overturn the $7,000 fine, causing OSHA officials to complain that the company had spent more than $2 million on legal fees in the case. OSHA officials said federal employees had to devote more than 4,700 hours of legal work in response to Wal-Mart’s effort to block the $7,000 fine.

New York Times, 3/25/2011

 

Last week, both the New York Times and the Columbia Journalism Review reported on Wal-Mart’s extraordinary efforts to avoid a 7,000 fine from OSHA in relation to a trampling death at one of its stores on New York’s Long Island on Black Friday 2008. The CJR piece (and the Times piece to some extent) express surprise at Wal-Mart’s intense opposition, which seems more about a “brush back pitch to Department of Labor” in the words of CJR.

It’s not actually that surprising to those of us who work at Arise-Chicago. Over and over employers go to extreme means to avoid accepting responsibility for workplace justice violations, including spending 2, 3, or even 10 times more on lawyers than the amount of back wages they owe a worker. The culture of irresponsibility and recklessness that supposedly marks the urban underclass better describes corporate America from top to bottom then any “ghetto” neighborhood in the inner cities of America. A toxic mix of pride and stubborn refusal to accept any regulation on business behavior seems to put so many employers we interact with at Arise-Chicago into full Clint Eastwood get off my lawn mode when it comes to accepting responsibility for their actions.

 

As these articles show, this starts from the top, with large corporations and their political arms fighting any meaningful regulation that supports workers. Unfortunately, this seems to be the one area where trickle down actually works. Large corporations’ efforts to eviscerate regulatory agencies doesn’t just matter for those who work at those companies, but washes through the rest of the economy, in much the same way the union density can benefit non-union workers’ wages and working conditions. Wage theft and other workplace violations are often framed as being about the individual greed for profits, racism against immigrant workers, or bad apples in a poor economic climate, but our experience at Arise and these articles seem to indicate is that it’s about the pure, naked, prideful abuse of power.

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Welcome to Dignity at Work, a Project of Arise Chicago.

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