States attorney general is suing job agencies, alleging that they target vulnerable workers and trade place them with restaurant employers who exploit them
Javier and Daniel sit rigidly on a dirty mattress inside the makeshift shanty, peering out from behind a tattered comforter, their bodies shaking. Angel is on a contravene, stained office chair just outside. In a slump, mildewed tent next door, three men lie motionless side by side under a heap of blankets, staring up at the moist canvas. Two other lean-tos made of old mattresses, blue tarps and threadbare blankets complete the small community.
The ground is littered with crumpled brew cans, disposed clothes, food scraps and a monster mask.
Some days the encampment under a bridge just south of downtown and only north of Chicagos Chinatown has the feeling of a bedraggled backyard barbecue. Human from Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala cook frozen shrimp or crab over a flame, drink beers, gag and even sing. On this Saturday in February, however, “the mens” are silent, and the anxiety and sadnes in the air are palpable. It is just too cold.
These men are homeless but they are not unemployed. They work at Chinese buffets, Japanese sushi bars and steakhouses, and other restaurants across the midwest, sent by Chinese job agencies that are being investigated by the Illinois attorney general for alleged civil rights, human rights and labor law violations.
Attorney general Lisa Madigans complaint, filed on 12 November, names three nearby hiring agencies and two Illinois restaurants and refers to a larger network of eateries. One of the agencies closed its doors in October after the city issued constructing code violations; the other two agencies and the restaurants continue operating. In answers are presented in federal court, the defendants have all denied the allegations or told such violations are not their responsibility. Talking with the Guardian, relevant agencies owners and their lawyers denied wrongdoing or a connection with the homeless men.
The people under the bridge are no good, lazy, Ganglie Jiao, the owner of one of the three agencies sued by the attorney general, told the Guardian. Perhaps they ran at Chinese restaurants but not through my office. He later confessed: maybe some go to my office.
The agencies pay for bus or train tickets to send the men to eateries in other states, where they live in housing controlled by the restaurant owners, as described by more than 30 men interviewed between October and March. The men owe relevant agencies a commission of $120 to $250 for each job; they typically work four days to pay off the commission on human rights and transportation. After that, they typically construct $400 to $600 for running six-day weeks, 12 hours a day, as dishwashers, cutters, friers or cooks.
That comes out to$ 5-8 an hour, significantly below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour plus time-and-a-half for overtime. The us attorney general complaint quotes wages as low as $3.50 an hour and committees between $120 and $220.
These employment agencies target vulnerable Latino workers and place them with restaurant employers who exploit them, Madigan said.
The complaint, filed on behalf of the public and the Illinois department of labor, adds: These unlicensed job agencies have targeted Latino workers and actively marketed their ability to provide such Latino( or Mexican) workers to Chinese buffet restaurants that looked to fill low-paid kitchen positions.
Cara Hendrickson, chief of the attorney generals public interest division, said they are not trying to close the restaurants, but rather force them to comply with the law. The lawsuit demands the hire agencies, meanwhile, be closed through a permanent injunction.
Most of the workers are undocumented. Their last names are not used here because of their undocumented status and because most still hope to get work in restaurants.