MAY 18, 2017
WIDESPREAD WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS IN ILLINOIS BREEDING A CLIMATE OF FEAR AND ILLEGALITY
Workers Release New Report and Call on Local, State Reps to Act in Trump Era
Chicago, IL – A new report exposes how companies breed fear among low-wage workers through illegal retaliation and make violating workers’ rights a standard business practice. These degraded working conditions are now further fueled by the Trump Administration’s threats and rhetoric attacking all workers, but especially undocumented working communities.
The report, Challenging the Business of Fear, features first-of-its-kind research based on surveys and interviews with nearly 300 workers employed in a broad cross-section of Illinois’ low-wage industries. Collaborators, Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of Chicago-area worker centers, and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI), captured what happened when these workers were injured or tried to address abuse at work.
Workers’ stories illuminate how fear created by employers is setting the standards in Chicago area workplaces, rather than the law. The new report highlights the devastating failure to provide these workers with effective protection in the face of retaliation when reporting injuries and abuse, despite public reliance on workers’ ability to speak up in order to enforce workplace laws. In the absence of reliable protection, the constant threat of job loss and other harm creates pressure for workers to accept illegal abuses like wage theft.
“Mostly, people don’t bother to fight. They see people like me who speak up and suffer reprisals and think it’s not worth it,” explained a 38-year-old Latina factory worker who faced escalating humiliation and harassment at work before she was eventually fired for reporting a work injury.
Select worker survey findings: The research identifies more sweatshops than Starbucks in Chicago, with 75% of surveyed workers experiencing two or more rights violations at their current jobs. But blowing the whistle on these abuses is risky. Half of surveyed workers had lost work or experienced other forms of retaliation because of an injury on the job or trying to address a violation. When workers sought relief from retaliation, 55% of their complaints were not taken seriously and 66% did not receive adequate relief. Unsurprisingly, three-quarters of surveyed workers avoided reporting abuse at least sometimes out of fear.
“An enforcement system is successful when it prevents abuse more often than it has to intervene to remedy it. It should never deter workers from reporting abuse, which is what is happening now,” said Brittany Scott, Senior Research Strategist with NESRI. “Workers should be able to fairly assume they’re protected, that the path to justice will meet their needs and the outcome of enforcement will lead to prevention.”
“Our research pulls together what we see every day. The appalling norm of abuse is why we’re pushing for an effective new enforcement framework that addresses retaliation. Locally, we are building a model for worker-centered enforcement. At the same time, we must start the work of improving how workers are protected and supported around the state,” said Sophia Zaman, Executive Director of Raise the Floor.
Raise the Floor is supporting the campaign led by one of its worker center members, Arise Chicago, pushing the City of Chicago to create an Office of Labor Standards that will work in partnership with workers and the community to improve the path to justice and enforcement outcomes locally. The alliance is also working to pass the Illinois Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act (SB1760), introduced by the Illinois AFL-CIO, which would make worker protection the rule under law, rather than exception.