Religious leaders joined more than 100 workers and their supporters on a picket line Saturday in front of the Golan's Moving and Storage Company in Skokie to hold a vigil and show solidarity with the company's employees. The workers have been striking for two weeks.
Last month, some 60 workers walked off the job after contract negotiations with the moving company stalled. In addition to charging the company with unfair labor practices, the striking workers, who in December won representation from the Teamster’s Local 705, are also fighting for health insurance, wage increases and more.
“There can be no peace without justice,” Cantor Michael Davis of the Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism in Highland Park told the crowd. “We remember that we all came from somewhere else. That we were all slaves once in Egypt, and we stand with everybody who is struggling. We call for justice for the workers of Golan's.”
Javier Torres, a 32-year-old employee who has worked for Golan's for two years, said he is striking because the company failed to live up to their promise to help him with a medical bill stemming from a workplace injury.
“The doctors sent me to get an MRI and I asked for help because I don’t have a medical plan that would cover the cost,” said Torres.
“The hospital helped me with a subsidy, but there was a remaining balance of $300. I brought the paperwork to the company to cover the $300. They told me they were going to do it, but never did. As a consequence of that debt the hospital sent the balance to a collection agency.”
Torres also said that although the company helped him obtain a drivers' license, he had to pay a $500 deposit.
“Supposedly they are going to return it to me six months after I leave the company, if I want to leave. That never happens - they’ve never returned any money,” he explained
Reverend C.J. Hawking, executive director of Arise Chicago, said standing with workers like Torres is important for faith leaders.
“The fact that these workers have had their wages stolen, it’s against our scriptures, it’s against our traditions,” Hawking said. "We feel we need to have the moral voice to say to the company ‘you need to treat your workers more fairly.’ We also want to lift that voice up to the customer base to tell them that this is a company that has pretty shoddy labor practices and that they might want to consider going to another company.”
Golan's reopened negotiations last week after religious leaders joined the workers on the picket line in a similar demonstration. But given the company’s slow moving nature in negotiating, the bargaining could again stall, according to those familiar with the situation.
“What they have done repeatedly is schedule meetings and then a day or even two hours in advance of the meeting simply cancel it,” said Richard Devries a representative for Teamster’s Local 705.
“They engage in what’s called regressive bargaining. They commit to a particular proposal and the following week or two later they deny they made the proposal or say they changed their minds,” Devries said.
After the rally, the striking workers and their families and supporters had a BBQ on the lawn across the street from Golan's. Devries said creating such an atmosphere is important in continuing their struggle.
“What we have out here are probably 25 different nationalities. If you’re going to build a union, you build a union by bonding people together. They get to know each other’s families and it forms a deeper relationship," he explained.
The company posted a sign on the building telling striking workers they can contact the company’s dispatch office “when you are ready to come back to work.” In response, some workers made a sign reading that they’ll come back to work when their contract gets signed. Reverend Hawking said faith leaders would continue spreading that message in order to keep the pressure on Golan's.
“We’re going to be in 100 services over Labor Day weekend and the news of the Golan's strike will get to hundreds of thousands of people in a very personal way.”
Torres said he hopes a resolution will come quickly.
“We hope it doesn’t take a long time. We need our jobs back, we want our jobs back, but with better conditions.”