Community activists picketed outside Ferrara Candy Company’s Forest Park facility Monday, blasting the maker of Lemonheads and Red Hots for discriminating against African Americans in the temporary hiring process. They also demanded that the company put an end to its alleged exploitation of immigrant workers.
Organizers with the Coalition Against Segregation of Temporary Employees, the Westside Health Authority, and the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, among other groups, said the candy company contracts much of its packing work out to temporary employment agencies Remedial Environmental Manpower (REM) and Labor Power.
The two temp agencies have mostly sent Latino workers to Ferrara's Forest Park facility and have largely shut out African-American applicants, the protestors alleged.
“We want to end the discrimination of African Americans and exploitation of immigrant workers,” said Elce Redmond with the South Austin Coalition Community Council. “The immigrant workers who come here have to work very, very long hours. Sometimes their wages are stolen from them, and if they complain, then people say, ‘We’ll call ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).’”
The Ferrara protest comes in light of a federal class action complaint that was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago back in February. Three African-American job applicants brought the complaint against Ferrara, REM and Labor Power. The complaint is also on behalf of other “similarly situated African-American job applicants.”
The plaintiffs say that they were qualified to work at Ferrara. But when they sought employment, both directly from the company and through the two temp agencies, they were repeatedly denied the opportunity to work at Ferrara, according to the complaint. The allegations date back to November 2011.
The plaintiffs also charge that they have witnessed other African-American applicants be denied the opportunity to work at, or even apply for a position with, Ferrara via its temp agencies. Other applicants who were not African American, however, were able to apply or were awarded jobs, the complaint reads.
The plaintiffs’ attorney, Christopher Williams with the Workers’ Law Office, said Ferrara officals say the company has not discriminated against African-American workers because it does most of its hiring through the two temp agencies. The candy company's officials maintain that they simply take in the workers that the temp agencies send their way, Williams explained.
But the plaintiffs charge that Ferrara’s practice of using the temp agencies has a disparate impact on African Americans. Ferrara has received almost exclusively Latino workers through the agencies, Williams said.
“At some point (Ferrara) should have known that they were getting almost no African Americans,” he added.
A status hearing on the case is scheduled for Wednesday, Williams said.
Aronzo Davis, with the Coalition Against Segregation of Temporary Employees, said Monday's action is just the start of a long fight for jobs and justice.
“How can we address the epidemic of joblessness in our community if we are shut out of employment opportunities because of our race,” Davis asked.
Charles Perry, director of community organizing with the Westside Health Authority, said the organization is near Ferrara’s Forest Park facility, yet it has had troubles getting Austin workers employed there through the temp agencies.
“We cannot get [anyone] hired from the Austin community, but when you go in every corner store, every grocery store ... you see all these candies that Ferrara Pan makes,” Perry said. “We have to stop this.”
Here's more from Redmond and Perry, as well as other scenes from Monday's protest:
Leone Bicchieri, executive director of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, which helps organize temp workers, added that temp agencies and other client companies should no longer be allowed to divide the Latino and African-American communities.
“It’s been too long that African Americans say, ‘Oh, those immigrant workers, they shouldn’t be in there,’ [and] too long that we Latinos have said to the African Americans, ‘You shouldn’t be in there,’” Bicchieri said. “It’s time that we realize, in the richest country on earth, there’s plenty of jobs for all of us. We’ve just got to be united.”
Neither REM nor Labor Power returned Progress Illinois’ requests for comment for this story. A spokeswoman for Ferrara said the company had no comment.