Chicago Butcher Demands His Pay—With A Little Help From Friends

Kari Lydersen

Miguel Brito, a Mexican immigrant, has worked at a Chicago butcher shop called Dona Mari’s 2 for 16 years. Brito says he has been cheated out of wages consistently for most of his employment there. Wage theft is a common experience for immigrant workers, as documented in a book by Chicagoan Kim Bobo, and especially since the economic crisis many have felt powerless to complain or look for other work.

But this afternoon, Chicagoans will accompany Brito to the butcher shop on the city’s northwest side to demand his wages. A press release from the Arise Chicago Workers Center says:

Mr. Brito was paid less than the minimum wage for most of his years working there. The worker is only asking for $7,570, the amount owed for his last three years of employment. Last week, the employer reneged on his commitment to pay Mr. Brito the full back wages. 

The butcher shop is in the Albany Park neighborhood, an extremely diverse neighborhood home to many immigrants from Latin America, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. Its streets are lined with small businesses owned and operated by immigrant families and their descendants, the butcher shop being one of them.

The dynamics may be different in fighting wage theft or other abuses at such small, family-run outlets as opposed to major corporations…but advocates point out that violations of labor law and exploitation of immigrant workers is no less a crime and injustice in such situations. 

Brito said:

He’s holding on to and saving this money, and meanwhile, I am supporting my wife here, and my parents and two children in Mexico. We have not been able to buy a car, a house, or save any money for the future or in order to take care of ourselves in retirement.

Arise Chicago is a nonprofit workers center affiliated with Interfaith Worker Justice that helps workers collect their wages and otherwise stand up for their rights. Of Brito’s situation, Arise organizer Jamie Hayes said, Unfortunately this situation is typical of employers in low wage industry — they won’t even comply with the basic minimums of labor law, especially for immigrant workers.”

In 2010 the University of Illinois at Chicago released a study on wage theft, including case studies of workers in Albany Park. Study author Nik Theodore told WBEZ radio reporter Chip Mitchell:

The data show the most vulnerable workers are immigrants, especially those who lack authorization to work in this country. But the survey found that employers are stealing from every demographic group. The industries range from retail to home health care, warehousing to private security. Theodore says shorting workers has ripple effects. It robs the communities that they live in from the economic stimulus that this spending would generate. It robs municipalities and the state from the tax revenue from that kind of spending.

Brito will meet supporters at 2:15 p.m. on Monday August 1 outside the butcher shop at 3518 W. Montrose Ave. in Chicago.

Kari Lydersen is a Chicago-based reporter, author and journalism instructor, leading the Social Justice & Investigative specialization in the graduate program at Northwestern University. She is the author of Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99%.
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