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Maintenance Workers Fight for Lost Wages in Chicago

Emily Udell

Arise Chicago members, local clergy and community supporters protest outside the Builders Center of Chicago, on Sept. 22, 2009.

When Eladio Perez and Roberto Jacinto were hired by the Builders Center of Chicago, they agreed on an hourly wage and began work in earnest. They painted, hauled trash and did maintenance work at job sites operated by the company.

But the company’s owners seemed to pay them willy-nilly — a check for $300 here, or $50 there. Occasionally they even overpaid the two, according to Adam Kader, director of the Arise Chicago Worker Center, where Perez and Jacinto eventually turned for help for lost wages.

The net result was that they were grossly underpaid,” Kader said.

Company managers have verbally agreed to pay the nearly $8,000 in back wages owed to the two men for work performed between October 2008 and May 2009. But they’ve failed to deliver. 

A message left for the company’s managing partner, Anatoly Zharkin, was not returned. Kader said Zharkin has been glib about the dispute and claimed he doesn’t have enough money to pay Perez and Jacinto. (See Stephen Franklin’s recent Working ITT post about the dispute.)

Wage theft is a rampant problem across the U.S., which we’ve discussed in many blog posts here. The issue was examined in the recent study Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers” (PDF link), which found workers lose as much as $56 million a week in wages owed to them.

Today Perez and Jacinto hope to move the ball down the court as they partner with Arise Chicago — part of the national group Interfaith Worker Justice—and the Ravenswood United Church of Christ for a visit to the offices of Builders Center. They plan to ask Zharkin to sign a contract that agrees to a payment plan.

They’re not a small fly-by-night company,” Kader said. Eight thousand dollars is a lot of money to these workers, but we can’t take [Zharkhin] seriously when he says he can’t come up with it.”

Saint Silkwood?

I’m sure I’m not alone in celebrating the release of the latest book by the wonderful Canadian writer Margaret Atwood in the U.S. today (though I am sad that 57 people have requested it ahead of me at the local library). An article about The Year of the Flood, the newest novel by the author of the classic feminist fable The Handmaid’s Tale, mentioned that the members of an ascetic cult in Atwood’s futuristic tale consider Karen Silkwood a saint.

Silkwood was, of course, the 1970s labor activist who fought for safe working conditions at the nuclear plant where she worked in Crescent, Okla. Amid her extensive organizing efforts in 1974, the 28-year-old Silkwood was killed in a suspicious single-car accident. The 1983 Mike Nichols’ flick on her life is well worth a watch.

Workers Strip in Last-Ditch Effort to Save Their Jobs

French workers have taken an unusual step to protest layoffs at a gas and water heating equipment factory in the northwest part of the country: posing for a nudie calendar. Fifteen men created the nude calendar with the hopes of drawing attention to their struggle at the Chaffoteaux plant, where 207 of the factory’s 251 employees could soon receive pink slips.

Draw attention they have — more than 2,000 of the 5,000 copies printed were already sold yesterday.

Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.
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