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What About the Companies?

La Raza, News Report, Fabiola Pomareda Posted: Aug 06, 2008

Editor’s Note: Immigrant workers detained during ICE raids are being charged as criminals, but who is going after IFCO, Cargill or Koch Foods, the companies that employed them? La Raza Newspaper writer Fabiola Pomareda reports from Chicago.

Traducción al español

CHICAGO – On Nov. 7, 2007, agents from the Cook County Sheriffs Department and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) arrested 23 workers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on charges of using false or expired identification badges. The badges were used to gain access to the airport loading zones where they worked.

The workers, who were employed by the temp agency Ideal Staffing Solutions, were subcontracted to do work for large airline companies including United Airlines, Alitalia, Gate Gourmet, Air Menzies and Swissport Cargo.

On July 17, 10 of the workers who had been arrested in the raid filed a class action lawsuit in Cook County Court against their former employer and the contracting airline companies, charging them with labor rights violations.

The complaints include failure to pay overtime, payment below federal and state minimum wage requirements, and failure to provide the workers with receipts for hours worked and wages received, among other charges.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of arrested workers Marcelino Andrade, Berenice Jacinto, América García, Oralia Palacios, Miguel Rubio, Ismael Andrade, José Hernández, Lucía Portillo, René Córdoba and Francisco Medina.

In a recent press conference, attorneys Chris Williams and Jed Untereker, who with assistance from the Mexican Consulate represent the 10 plaintiffs, accused Ideal Staffing of providing the workers with the false or expired identification badges so they would be able to keep working.

NO ACCOUNTABILITY

For Ioana Navarrete, vice-consul and director of the Mexican Consulate’s Protection Department, it is clear that the workers were misled. “These employees had no knowledge that by using the identification badges they were allegedly committing a crime,” she said.

“If (airport) authorities didn’t even know that these badges were expired or fake, how were the workers supposed to know?” Navarrete asked.

Untereker, an attorney with Working Hands Legal Clinic, said that, “even though the large companies try to shield themselves (from the law) by using a temporary agency, the law makes it clear that these companies are co-employers and are equally responsible for these infractions.”

Navarrete said the workers are currently being processed by immigration officials, but she declined to give more details about their immigration status.

Most of them were released to their homes after reaching a deal with ICE. But they are not allowed to work, she said.

EIGHT MONTHS WITH NO INCOME

“My name is Pedro and I worked for Alitalia,” said one worker who attended the recent press conference at the Mexican Consulate, where the lawsuit was made public.

Pedro, 59, was arrested during the Nov. 7 raid. He worked for Alitalia from 2002 to 2007 as a temporary employee. One day, his supervisor told him that employees needed identification badges to access restricted areas at the airport. “The owners of Ideal Staffing told us they would provide us with identification to allow us to continue working,” he said.

“I feel terrible, because after the immigration authorities arrested us and after we paid bail, they told us we could no longer work,” he said.

Pedro, who sends money to his wife and five children in Mexico, says he now owes $2,000 for rent plus accumulating utility bills.

While he sometimes finds work helping a friend with construction projects, the little money he earns is only enough to pay for food, he said.

'UNTOUCHABLES'

“The system criminalizes workers and allows bad companies to operate with impunity,” Untereker argued.

During a visit to Chicago earlier this month, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Under-Secretary Julie Myers said that, “before the next U.S. president takes office in January, we will make it a priority to control negligent companies that are responsible for criminal conduct.”

During a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Chicago Tribune, Myers reiterated that “harsh measures (will be taken) against companies that hire undocumented workers.”

Since last October, ICE officials have arrested 937 people at work sites, according to an agency statement issued this month. Of these arrests, only 99 involved business owners, managers, supervisors or human resource employees. ICE also levied some $31 million in fines during the 2007 fiscal year, according to the agency.

For veteran Chicago immigration activist Diego Bonesatti, the fact that immigration crackdowns result in few convictions of company officials and managers can be attributed to the fact that many employers “usually have political connections.”

“The usual argument by (ICE) officials is that there are always fewer owners that workers,” he said.

RAID HITS HOME

“Don’t go to work, because there’s an immigration raid,” Manuel heard as he picked up the phone one day. Manuel (who asked that his real name not be published) was supposed to work that day at O’Hare Airport from 5 to 11 p.m., driving luggage carriers.

The phone call saved Manuel from arrest that day, but, left without work, he soon joined the list of plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Ideal Staffing. He says the company owes him back pay, and he is unable to work until the legal dilemma is resolved.

The 60-year-old worker from Guanajuato, Mexico had worked for Air Menzies for the past seven years, driving luggage carriers and trailers and moving and weighing shipping containers.

His wages started at $10 an hour, and he got a raise to $11.85 a few months before the raid. He worked an average of 46 hours a week for Air Menzies, but to supplement his income he kept a second part-time job as a factory worker, working for 13 years in a small gold and silver factory.

Manuel said that last year, Air Menzies managers told him that in order to continue working he would need a security pass. The company transferred him to Ideal Staffing with the promise of obtaining the necessary working credentials. But that never happened.

“That’s when the raid happened and they rounded everyone up,” he said.

Manuel, who is married and has two children and one grandchild, says he joined the class action lawsuit to recover overtime pay. “All I’m asking is that they pay me what they owe me,” he said.

“This injustice is very simple,” he explained. “I don’t have enough now to make ends meet. I’ve been looking for part-time work, but I just can’t find any.”

Translated by David Boddiger


QUICK FACTS

Wal-Mart Stores
60 stores in 21 states
October 2003
352 arrested
In a settlement, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $11 million in government fines for sub-contracting with 12 cleaning companies that employed undocumented workers.

IFCO Systems
40 plants across the US
April 2006
1,187 arrested
Seven managers were accused of hiring and transporting undocumented workers. Five company executives await trial.

Spectrum Interiors
November 2006
Covington, KY
31 arrested
Company president Jeffery Wolnitzek sentenced to eight months in jail for providing lodging to undocumented workers for personal financial gain. The company received a $2 million fine.

Swift & Company
Six plants in six states
December 2006
1,297 arrested
A UFCW union official and one company human resources employee face charges of hiring undocumented workers.

Cargill Pork Processing Plant
Beardstown, IL
April 2007
63 arrested
Gerardo Domínguez-Chacón, a former supervisor, and María Del Pilar Marroquin, ex–employee of the agency Quality Service Integrity (QSI) received prison sentences of 38 months and 10 months, respectively, for hiring undocumented workers who provided cleaning services.

Koch Foods
Fairfield, OH
August 2007
160 arrested
Outcome: Pending

McDonald's franchise (Mack Associates)
Reno, NV
September 2007
58 arrested
The franchise was ordered to pay a $1 million fine for providing false identification to undocumented workers at 11 locations.

Ideal Staffing Solutions
Bensenville, IL
November 2007
23 arrested
Corporate secretary Mary Gurin was accused of giving refuge to undocumented workers for personal financial gain.

Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)


Related Articles:

Criminal Investigation into Iowa Company Targeted by ICE

Hispanic Caucus to Investigate Postville Trials

Interpreting the Largest ICE Raid in U.S. History: A Personal Account

After Iowa Raid, Families in Limbo


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