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Chicago Workers Win Tough New Wage Theft Protection

Arise Chicago photo

Chicago now has one of the nation’s strongest anti-wage theft laws after the City Council last week unanimously passed a bill that the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) affiliate Arise Chicago, immigrant workers groups and unions supported.

Sponsored by 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, the new ordinance could revoke business licenses for businesses found guilty of wage theft. Pawar said the law also levels the playing field for employers who play by the rules.       

This ordinance helps change the conversation about good business. To be pro-business also includes caring about how employees are treated. I think this marks an important step in leveling the playing field for the many ethical business owners in our city.

Liliana Baca (see photo, above), a member of the Arise Chicago Worker Center, told reporters after the bill was passed:

I worked for over 55 hours a week for five years at a grocery store. And I never received overtime pay. This is my wage theft story. But I’m not the only one who has a story. So many people have had their wages stolen, and this ordinance will help them recover their wages and prevent wage theft from happening to other people.

A study by the University of Illinois-Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development estimated that $7.3 million of workers' wages are stolen by employers every week in Cook County. It also found:

  • 26% of the low-wage workers in the sample were paid less than the required minimum wage for work performed during the survey period;
  • More than 60% of such workers were underpaid by more than $1 per hour;
  • 67% of workers were not paid the legally required overtime rate for hours worked beyond 40 hours in a week;
  • 45% of workers in the sample did not receive required documentation of their earnings and deductions for hours worked; and
  • Low-wage workers frequently encounter retaliation after complaining about illegal working conditions.

Adam Kader, Arise Chicago Worker Center director, said:

When workers receive their full paycheck, they spend more in their local communities, the government collects more taxes and law-abiding businesses do not suffer from unfair competition.

In October, Broward County, Fla., passed an anti-wage theft ordinance. A study last year found that workers in 44 states have little or no protection against wage theft.  

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