On Thursday, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that will make the city a national leader in the protection of employee wages. Employers in the city will be held accountable if found guilty of wage theft, thanks to the new ordinance, and could have their business licenses revoked, making the city one of only two municipalities in the nation that has such a law on its books. San Francisco is the only other American city to have similar wage theft safeguards.
“This ordinance helps change the conversation about good business. To be pro-business also includes caring about how employees are treated,” said Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), who worked with Arise Chicago to get the ordinance passed. “I think this marks an important step in leveling the playing field for the many ethical business owners in our city."
The possible revocation of a business license as punishment for wage theft, which includes paying employees less than the minimum wage and failing to pay for overtime, has been lauded by the National Employment Law Project as one of the strongest ways in which a city can stymie the problem. The ordinance, which was co-sponsored by Alds. Pawar, Danny Solis (25th) and Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, is much needed in Chicago considering a recent study by the University of Illinois-Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development found that approximately $7.3 million in employee wages are stolen in Cook County each week.
Minorities are adversely affected by wage theft with African Americans being 27 times more likely to be victims of the act compared to their Caucasian counterparts. Immigrants are 1.5 times more likely to experience wage theft when compared to their American-born counterparts.
“I worked for over 55 hours a week for five years at a grocery store. And I never received overtime pay," shares Liliana Baca, who is a member of Arise Chicago's Worker Center. "This is my wage theft story. But I’m not the only one who has a story. So many people have had their wages stolen, and this ordinance will help them recover their wages and prevent wage theft from happening to other people.” Last September, Progress Illinois covered the rampant wage theft seen in Chicago's car wash industry.
In addition to protecting workers, the ordinance will also assist good employers in the city.
“This ordinance rewards businesses that are in accordance with employment law, and incentivizes wage stealing-employers to correct their ways," said Adam Kader, director of Arise Chicago's Worker Center, in a press release. “Good jobs are the basis of strong communities. When workers receive their full paycheck, they spend more in their local communities, the government collects more taxes, and law-abiding businesses do not suffer from unfair competition.”
Image: Arise Chicago (Pawar and Arise Chicago presenting a $378 million check, which represents the amount of wages stolen from Chicago workers each year)