Chicago workers plan
for May Day march
Organize unions, fight for legalization!
Workers and students at March 7 Chicago-area conference discussed attacks on immigrant workers in the midst of economic crisis and rising unemployment. Alfonso Cerda, above, described strike at sign company that won contract for workers.
BY BETSY FARLEY
AND JORGE LERTORA
CHICAGOMore than 70 Chicago-area workers joined a March 7 discussion here on the stepped-up attacks on immigrant workers in the midst of rising unemployment and economic crisis.
The workers discussion kicked off an immigrant rights conference initiated by the March 10th Committee, the coalition that organized actions in Chicago of tens of thousands for legalization of the undocumented on May Day the last two years. The workers assembly was initiated by the Chicago Workers Collaborative. Eighty more people participated in the entire day-long conference.
That evening a plenary session ended with a call to organize the May Day 2009 march for legalization in Chicago.
Sergio, who asked that his last name not be used, explained that Stock Yards Meatpacking Company where he is employed has threatened to fire 22 workers for No Match letters. At first the union did not defend the workers and we felt the union was in need of a push, he said.
He and his coworkers began a campaign to stop the harassment. We held them off for two years, said Sergio, but now the company is demanding again that we produce documentation. The important thing is to be united as workers, and not be intimidated.
Maria Villagrana described working for a temporary service in Chicago called Staffing Network. You arrive at 5:00 a.m. and dont get sent out for a job until 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., or sometimes not at all, she said.
We dont get paid for the waiting time. Temporary workers just get minimum wage, while the permanent workers make $11 or $12 an hour doing the same work. We need to stand up for the rights we do have, we need a union, Villagrana said.
Marisol García was among 19 workers fired from a company making labels for medications. García explained that most workers are hired through the temporary agency.
Our case is one of discrimination for being Latinas, she said. We do have papers and still they fired us because of supposedly not being fluent in English. We understand and we do a good job. The workers have been fighting for six months to get back to work, or at least be paid severance.
Many others spoke, exchanging experiences from incidents of sexual harassment to arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Two women reported they were lured to a supposed hiring session in Indiana where they were arrested by ICE cops. They are currently forced to wear electronic monitoring ankle bracelets and are fighting the arrests. Participants also included day laborers and street vendors.
Alfonso Cerda, who works for a sign company, said that the company had divided white, Black, and Latino workers. The Latinos had the lower wages and only half of them were represented by a union.
We werent sure what to do and decided to go out on strike, he said. All 12 workers were fired. But they kept fighting and were able to win their jobs back with three months back pay. Now all of us workers keep up the fight under better circumstances, because now we are represented by IBEW Local 134 under one contract, he said.
Workers also discussed the importance of pressing forward on the fight for legalization. Armando Robles, president of United Electrical Workers Local 1110, chaired the assembly. He worked at Republic Windows and Doors, the Chicago plant where laid-off workers sat in for a week in December and won 60 days pay and benefits due them under federal law. After describing the fight, Robles said, We need to plan a large mobilization for May 1 in Chicago, to keep on fighting for legalization and workers rights.
Workshops followed the workers assembly on topics that included opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health-care crisis and its impact on immigrants, immigration legislation in 2009, and youth and student organizing.
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