Yesterday morning, around 40 people gathered at a car wash in Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood to stand in solidarity with Luis Perez on the National Day of Action Against Wage Theft. Perez's bosses had underpaid him by at least $4,300 during the time he worked there, according to Adam Kader, the director of Arise Chicago, a workers' center that arranged the protest. "The real problem, I think, was that wages were treated as something ... that did not have to be transparent," Kader said. Time-and-a-half records weren't kept, he often worked seven days a week, a violation of state law, tips weren't distributed properly, and Perez ended up making as little as $3 per hour on some shifts.
Wage theft is a ubiquitous problem in Cook County. Low-wage workers are most at risk. Twenty-six percent of workers said they were paid less than the minimum wage on their jobs, according to a groundbreaking study (PDF) released this past spring. Two-thirds of workers reported, like Perez, not getting overtime when they worked more than 40 hours a week and nearly half didn't even get a pay stub. In all, low-wage workers lose more than $7.3 million in wages each week due to employment and labor law violations. It's a stunning number.
That's where groups like Arise Chicago and Interfaith Worker Justice can help. Kader reported that the protesters yesterday arranged a meeting with the car wash's owner, who eventually offered $1,000 to settle the case, and Perez decided to accept the amount. "I’m very content about how today’s action went," he said in a statement. "Thank you to all of my supporters who helped me recover the wages that were owed to me. I’m very grateful for all of the companions who came out today. I hope that other workers will do the same as I -- to not be intimidated by the boss; to not remain silent."