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Ordinance to Revoke Business Licenses of Wage-Stealing Employers Passes Chicago City Council Unanimously
Ordinance praised by worker advocates as one of the strongest municipal anti-wage theft laws in U.S., second of its kind nationally; will protect vulnerable workers and defend ethical businesses
CHICAGO - January 17 - As a result of months of collaboration between interfaith workers' rights organization Arise Chicago and Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th ward), today the City of Chicago passed an ordinance stating that, should a business owner be found guilty of wage theft, the owner's business license could be revoked. The ordinance, held up by the National Employment Law Project as one of the strongest actions a municipality can take to combat wage theft, will benefit all workers of licensed businesses and their families in Chicago.
“This ordinance helps change the conversation about good business. To be pro-business also includes caring about how employees are treated,” reflected Alderman Pawar. “I think this marks an important step in leveling the playing field for the many ethical business owners in our city."
Says Liliana Baca, member of Arise Chicago’s Worker Center, “I worked for over 55 hours a week for five years at a grocery store. And I never received overtime pay. This is my wage theft story. But I’m not the only one who has a story. So many people have had their wages stolen, and this ordinance will help them recover their wages and prevent wage theft from happening to other people.”
Wage theft creates unfair competition for employers who want to follow the law and want to do the right thing but find themselves in a market flooded with competitors able to undercut them by stealing workers' wages. In the Chicago car wash industry, for example, extreme wage theft is the norm, making it nearly impossible for ethical businesses to compete.
David Launius, owner of We'll Clean Car Wash, says that "the human element of business is the most important." Speaking in support of the ordinance in a letter submitted during testimony on the bill, Launius stated, "We care about the well-being of our staff. We are proud to partner with Arise Chicago to ensure that our workers are the best treated in the industry."
The ordinance, co-sponsored by Ald. Ameya Pawar, Ald. Emma Mitts, Ald. Danny Solis, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, gives desperately-needed tools to the city of Chicago to ensure employers obey the law.
Indeed, according to research conducted by the University of Illinois-Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) an estimated $7.3 million of workers’ wages are stolen by their employers every week in Cook County. Wage theft disproportionately harms the most vulnerable of workers: immigrants are 1.5 times more likely than native-born workers to have their wages stolen, and African Americans are 27 times more likely to have their wages stolen than their white counterparts.
While employment laws are state or federal, the city of Chicago stands to benefit from their enforcement. “This ordinance rewards businesses that are in accordance with employment law, and incentivizes wage stealing-employers to correct their ways," says Worker Center Director, Adam Kader. “Good jobs are the basis of strong communities. When workers receive their full paycheck, they spend more in their local communities, the government collects more taxes, and law-abiding businesses do not suffer from unfair competition.”
The legislation passed the Committee on License and Consumer Protection earlier this week after testimony from workers, 47th ward Ald. Ameya Pawar, a co-author of the CUED report, and a representative of the University of Illinois Labor Education Program. It is supported by Arise Chicago and other key workers’ rights community organizations including the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos/Immigrant Workers’ Project, Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, Latino Union, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center—Chicago, who are dedicated to fighting wage theft and other forms of worker exploitation.