Monday, April 30, 2018 || By Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch || @maywoodnews
Featured image: State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (7th) | Submitted
Today marks an important occasion for working families – International Workers’ Day. It’s a particularly special day here in Chicago because the commemoration began after the Haymarket Affair in 1886 with the fight for the eight-hour workday.
What has been a prophetic date for celebrating the rights of workers has also become a painful reminder that we still have so much work to do to protect workers 132 years later.
In 1886, the U.S was experiencing a robust expansion of the industrial movement right after the Civil War. Chicago was home to thousands of Eastern European immigrants who worked for about $1.50 a day for over 60 hours a week on a six-hour work day schedule. They fought to ensure an eight-hour workday so that workers could have dignified lives to rest, live, and spend time with their families and loved ones.
The similarities between that period and the present are stark. The U.S is experiencing a huge growth in the gig economy from digital commerce to the temp industry and other low-wage sectors, which are continuing to grow at alarming rates.
On a national level, we see the threats to dismantle unions through Right to Work legislation, more cuts to workers’ compensation, corporate consolidation, a greater wage disparity, and less and less regulation over massive companies and corporations.
We also see the same things happening in Illinois. With a billionaire governor who prioritizes profits over the lives of workers, we constantly have to protect the significant achievements we gained to protect and uphold workers’ rights.
On top of these threats, the reality for low-wage workers remains grim. Illinois is home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Mexico, India, Poland, and other countries and are being paid significantly less than the minimum wage and are often robbed from receiving overtime when they work over 40 hours a week.
Every year, nearly a quarter of Illinois workers have $625 million in wages stolen from them.[i] Wage theft has become rampant in these industries and employers have learned new tricks to avoid ever paying out what courts have determined are owed to their workers.
The consequences of not being paid are real. Miguel and Bonifacio, two workers in the construction industry, were promised payment for work they completed on a home. After weeks of lies and false promises from their employer, Miguel and Bonifacio are still owed over $10,000, forcing one of them to foreclose on their family home. Theirs is just one story among thousands. Economic insecurity means less money for a child’s education, groceries, rent, and medical bills. The stress literally tears families apart.
Even when workers like Miguel and Bonifacio try to pursue their wage claims, they must wait between one and three years to win their case. Most bad employers use the lengthy wage claim process to do one of four things to avoid paying out their employees – (1) they transfer their assets to a relative or third party, (2) file for bankruptcy, (3) shut down their business, or (4) re-open their business under a new name.
Working families need to have economic security to thrive. For these reasons, I introduced HB 4324, the Wage Protection Act, so that workers can have a tool to collect stolen wages and end the tricks bad employers play in order to avoid paying their workers. I’m proud to announce the agreed bill passed through the House with a super majority.
As HB 4324 moves into the Senate, let us remember all the incredible victories that have drastically hanged the field of worker justice, but let us equally honor current struggles for workers’ rights in Illinois. Let us continue the legacy of the Haymarket Affair in fighting for workers to have dignified lives where they have the economic security to rest, live, and spend time with their loved ones. Join me in supporting the Wage Protection Act HB4324. VFP
[i] Cooper, David & Teresa Kroeger, Employers Steal Billions from Workers’ Paychecks Each Year, Economic Policy Institute (2017) (analyzing Current Population Survey data between 2013-2015).
Representative Chris “Emanuel” Welch represents the 7th House District, which includes portions of River Forest, Forest Park, Maywood, Broadview, Bellwood, Berkeley, Hillside and Westchester.
For more information on the Wage Protection Act Campaign, please contact Raise the Floor Alliance at 312.795.9115 and click here.