Chicagoland

Chicago Workers Collaborative receives funds from CCHD

By Chicago Católico
November 9, 2017

From left, Elvia Garcia, Isaura Martinez, Enedina Zacarias, Isabel Martinez, and Leticia Garay plan strategies for the Chicago Workers Collaborative in Little Village on Oct. 13. Chicago Workers Collaborative, which receives a grant from CCHD, organizes low-wage temporary laborers to protect their rights, fighting anti-worker and anti-immigrant activities of employers while strengthening protections for temporary agency workers. CWC has raised labor standards in Illinois through grassroots campaigns that led to the passage of seven new laws, including the toughest temporary-labor and wage-theft laws in the country. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

When Enedina Zacarías was hurt at her job, she knew there was a problem. A conveyor belt at the candy factory where she worked as a temporary employee worker fell on her and threw her against a metal table.

“I hurt my spine,” she said. “The force of the blow broke my arm, I fractured the bone close to the shoulder, and my tendons were torn.”

Zacarías says that on the day of her accident, the factory did not provide anything for the pain. Given her need to work, she went back the next day, swollen and in severe pain. When her employers took her to the company doctor, the doctor assured her there was nothing wrong with her. 

She eventually sought a second opinion and discovered she had suffered a spinal disc injury. 

“I was very hurt,” she said. “I can’t work. And they have not paid me a penny.”  

Originally from México, Zacarías, 64, is going through difficult times, because she lives alone and she has to pay rent and buy food. A coworker told her about Chicago Workers Collaborative, an advocacy group that workers call “La Colaborativa.”

Chicago Workers Collaborative assigned a lawyer to Zacarías. The lawyer has been fighting for back wages for the time she has been out of work. The company denies negligence. 

“They want productivity,” says Zacarías. “They don’t care what happens to us.”

Zacarías recently had arm surgery and her lawyer covered the expense. Zacarías still needs spinal surgery, but the doctors are telling her that surgery is not advisable, because it is too risky at her age.  

Chicago Workers Collaborative is a nonprofit organization located in Englewood and Little Village that advocates for workers’ rights, especially those who work as temporary workers and work through job agencies. “La Colaborativa,” which helps in issues such as wage theft, defense services and training, is one of the agencies that receive support from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. 

“The most frequent problems for temporary workers are wage theft and accidents at work,” said Isaura Martínez, organizer of Chicago Workers Collaborative. “Also, retaliation by their employers, such as unfair dismissals.”

Martínez said wage theft happens frequently because workers are not protected and often lack proper information. 

“Because the people who are working through a temporary work office live paycheck to paycheck, losing a day of work is very serious for them. Precisely because they have a job, and they want to take advantage of it, they don’t give themselves the time to go places to receive information about their rights,” she said.

A lot of people are afraid because of their legal status. Martínez says that sometimes the worker goes to the temporary work offices and the office tells them they didn’t fill out the application correctly and for that reason alone they do not receive their full salary. 

“They discount them, they steal one day of salary, some even a week or two of salary,” she said. “They give thousands of excuses to keep that money.”   
Tim Bell, executive director of “La Colaborativa,” says Illinois has regulations for temporary worker agencies. 

“They have to register, they must have a license to operate,” he says. “They have to show they have insurance in case a worker gets injured. If they don’t have that they can be fined by the government.” 

The collaborative scored a victory when, at the end of September, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Responsible Jobs Creation Act (HB 690) that created more regulations for temporary work agencies, and, among other things, seeks to eliminate hiring discrimination and promotes safety in the workplace. The law, which will go into effect the summer of 2018, is the result of a Chicago Workers Collaborative initiative in association with the Warehouse Workers for Justice.  

These battles have united Latinos and African-American workers. 

“It’s very important to have that unity,” said Bell, “because the bosses are always pitting both groups in competition for jobs and to keep them divided is to keep them weak. That’s something we are changing as well.” 

Rosaura Martínez was a temporary worker for six years in different factories and she saw that division. 

“When we were in Springfield, it was a beautiful experience,” said Martinez, “because both groups were together, African Americans and Latinos, with the same feeling and the same struggle.” 

This year’s CCHD collection will be taken up at Masses the weekend of Nov. 18-19.

Topics:

  • cchd

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