Former workers of a dry cleaners in Chicago's South Loop filed a federal lawsuit against the company Monday morning, alleging that they were asked to complete more work than was possible, forced to work overtime without proper compensation and experienced unfair retaliation when they complained.
"These are pretty straightforward violations of the law. You have to pay your workers for every hour they work," said Sean Morales-Doyle, the lawyer representing the three former workers.
Hortensia Castaneda, Naivi Cobos and Ana Rodriguez filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court claiming CD One Price Cleaners unlawfully retaliated against its workers and violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act.
The three women worked at the CD One Price Cleaners, at 2200 S. Michigan Ave. Their lawsuit alleges that they were required to do more work than was feasible during their shifts, such as ironing 200 garments per hour, and were also responsible for making hangers for those garments at the same time.
"I was fired without reason after 10 years and I felt really bad about it. I felt like I needed to do something, so I got my coworkers together and went to Arise Chicago," Castaneda, 48, a resident of the Back of the Yards neighborhood, said Monday with translation services provided by the organization.
After the suit was filed, Castaneda and Cobos braved rain and cold temperatures Monday morning to participate in a protest outside the dry cleaners.
"We're here today fighting," said Castaneda, a mother of five children between the ages of 6 and 28, who earned $10 hourly at the dry cleaners.
Carolyn Morales, an organizer with Arise Chicago, and other members of the protest tried unsuccessfully to meet with management at the CD One Price Cleaners location to demand changes at the store.
"We're here today to request three specific changes: one, that the workload change from 200 pieces of clothing per hour to 100 pieces of clothing per hour; the other, is that every worker deserves a set schedule so they can plan their lives; and the third, and most important, is that every worker is paid for every minute of their time spent working," Morales said.
Here's more from Monday's protest:
According to the lawsuit, Castaneda, Cobos and Rodriguez were regularly forced to work off the clock in order to complete their assignments, including making hangers at home before or after their shifts, working during their lunch break and coming into work early to to do work before punching in.
The women were never compensated for the work completed off the clock, even though the company was aware of it, the lawsuit claims.
In July, Castaneda complained to her supervisor about the extra work and throughout the month she, Cobos and Rodriguez would openly discuss their work conditions, the lawsuit claims.
Castaneda was subsequently fired on August 8 "in apparent retaliation for her complaints regarding FLSA violations," the lawsuit alleges.
"I asked them what the reason was and they said it was because supposedly they didn't like the quality of my work," Castaneda said. "The real issue is they want quality, but we can't do quality with 200 pieces of clothing per hour."
The company also held Cobos and Rodriguez to higher standards than their fellow employees and enforced unreasonable expectations on them, the lawsuit alleges.
Rodriguez resigned, but was never paid her earned vacation pay, according to the lawsuit.
Cobos, 21, who has worked for CD One Price Cleaners for 3 years, earning $9 hourly, said the company gave her a new schedule that she cannot adhere to because she is responsible for caring for her 2-year-old daughter.
"I try to work when I can, but they change my schedule day-to-day and they don't give me any notice," she said during Monday's protest.
Morales-Doyle said the women were "obviously retaliated against" for bringing their unfair working conditions to light.
"The timing of the firing was so obvious in that it followed so quickly on the heels of the workers raising their complaints," he said.
The lawsuit also claims CD One Price Cleaners falsified records so that it would appear that Castaneda and Rodriguez never worked more than 40 hours in one week.
"Unfortunately this kind of thing happens more often than we'd like to think," Morales-Doyle said. "There are, unfortunately, a fair number of employers these days that are willing to take advantage of their workers in this way."
The five-count lawsuit is seeking back pay, unpaid overtime compensation and an unspecified amount in damages.
A representative from CD One Price Cleaners did not immediately comment on the lawsuit when reached by phone Monday morning.