Chicago has become a center of sweatshops, as bosses intensify coercive techniques such as fear to exploit workers, a new study finds.
The study titled, "Challenging the Business of Fear" prepared by Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of Chicago worker centers and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative interviewed and surveyed nearly 300 Chicago-area workers from a variety of low-wage industries, including warehousing, manufacturing, food service and retail, In These Times reported.
"Retaliation is a constant threat deployed by employers in response to workers who courageously bring attention to abuses and try to improve work conditions for themselves and others," the study stated.
Laws in most states, including Illinois, put the burden of proof on workers to prove that their employer fired them out of retaliation and not for some other reason, like poor performance or company downsizing, etc.
Sophia Zaman, the executive director of Raise the Floor Alliance, said in a statement Thursday that retaliation has become “so normalized, it’s basically a way of doing business.”
“Three-quarters of our participants reported two or more violations of their legal rights in their current job. This is the definition of a sweatshop,” Brittany Scott, senior research strategist at NESRI told In These Times.
According to the study, a staggering 73 percent of workers surveyed avoided reporting abuse sometimes out of fear. “The culture of fear is on purpose. Employers know they can get away with abuse,” Zaman said.
An investigation by the Chicago Reporter found out that only one in four minimum wage complaints in the city is investigated. One of the main reasons the workers don't submit the required affidavits needed to open an investigation is out of fear of the consequences as a copy of the affidavit also goes to the employer.
With Trump's ongoing crackdown on immigrants, the impact of such "sweatshop" policies on undocumented immigrants and their families is even more acute .
However, a recently proposed state legislative bill by the Illinois AFL-CIO looks to address some of the issues of workers' exploitation and the problems of reprisal, the Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act, supported by Raise the Floor Alliance and NESRI, essentially ensuring that it was not done in retaliation and forcing employers to provide fired workers with a clear and legitimate reason for the discharge.
Raise the Floor Alliance and NESRI are also working to create a Chicago Office of Labor Standards to put in place a more rigorous enforcement of worker protections at the local level.