Challenging the Business of Fear in Illinois

Retaliation Documentation Violations of basic workplace standards have become widespread across diverse low-wage industries through the growing use of fear as a way of doing business. A decade of documentation by the worker center movement has continued to expose the deteriorating conditions of low-wage work across industries. The findings of a groundbreaking, large-scale 2008 survey of low-wage workers in the three largest U.S. cities are staggering: nearly half of the workers experienced a wage theft in the past work week and only nine percent of seriously injured workers filed a workers' compensation claim. Protecting workers who bring attention to rights violations in the workplace is essential to restoring rule of law at work. Wage theft, discrimination and dangerous conditions that do not get reported do not get fixed. Workplace accountability systems rely on the complaints and participation of the workers experiencing abuse. Enforcement of workplace standards can be largely thwarted if employers get away with firing, threatening or otherwise retaliating against and intimidating workers. While a principle concern for workers experiencing abuse on the job, the retaliation and intimidation that shroud workplace abuses has remained mostly hidden. NESRI has partnered with Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition founded by eight worker centers in the Chicago area, to document the breakdown in accountability manifest in widespread incidences of retaliation and lay the groundwork for campaigns to improve how workers are protected at the center of enforcement. Through surveys and in-depth interviews, our joint report, Challenging the Business of Fear: Ending Workplace Retaliation, Enforcing Workers’ Rights, captures the stories of what happened when nearly 300 workers from across multiple industries in Illinois tried to address abuse at work. Business of Fear highlights the devastating failure to provide these workers with effective protection in the face of retaliation when reporting abuse, despite public reliance on workers’ ability to speak up in order to enforce workplace laws. In the absence of reliable protection, the constant threat of job loss creates pressure for workers to accept illegal abuses like wage theft. Select survey findings include: 75% were experiencing two or more workplace violations in current jobs 73% avoided reporting workplace abuses at least sometimes out of fear 48% experienced retaliation, particularly loss of work, when they tried to address an abuse Among workers who sought relief from retaliation, 55% of complaints were not taken seriously and 66% did not receive adequate relief A worker-centered framework enables all workers to fulfill their role as frontline monitors of their rights and addresses the pervasive menace of retaliation. We’ve identified these three elements that are missing from our current system that are essential to an effective worker-centered enforcement system: Accountability for power holders – Companies that use subcontracting to enjoy the fruits of workers’ labor while avoiding the legal obligations owed workers must be held accountable to oversee compliance with workers’ rights within their labor supply chains, as they do for product quality. A safe and reliable path to justice – Workers must be protected and supported in bringing attention to abuses at work. All workers need a straightforward path to justice that they know and can trust with quick and certain relief in case of retaliation. Prevention focused – Legal penalties and other enforcement measures must be designed to effectively deter employers from delaying and denying justice for workers. Read Business of Fear, the full report and executive summary, here. Find samples of our retaliation documentation tools in English and Spanish here. Additional Business of Fear resources include: Our initial findings white paper, Denied Dignity at Work in Illinois A graphic pamphlet of our survey findings in English and Spanish Wage theft and retaliation fact sheet Temp work and retaliation fact sheet in English and Spanish Government and community co-enforcement partnerships fact sheet Select documentation by the worker center movement of deteriorating job conditions in Illinois: Survey of Latino Day Labor Workers: A Project of the Day Laborer Collaboration, 2005 Unregulated Work in Chicago: The Breakdown of Workplace Protections in the Low-Wage Labor Market, 2010 Behind the Kitchen Door: The Hidden Costs of Taking the Low Road in Chicagoland’s Thriving Restaurant Industry, 2010 Bad Jobs in Goods Movement: Warehouse Work in Will County, Illinois, 2011 Clean Cars, Dirty Work: Workers' Rights Violations in Chicago Car Washes, 2012 Wage Denied: An Assessment of Workplace Conditions for Low-Wage Workers in Chicago’s 10th Ward, 2014 Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families, 2015 Campaigning for Worker-Centered Enforcement in Illinois NESRI supports Raise the Floor Alliance’s initiatives to restore rule of law in Illinois workplaces. The Alliance is jumpstarting a much-needed conversation about an effective and holistic new approach to workplace enforcement and fore-fronting member campaigns that put in place critical building blocks toward this vision locally and at the state and agency levels. This year, workers led by Arise Chicago are campaigning for the creation of a city Office of Labor Standards that will enforce city standards and partner with workers' organizations to improve the path to workplace accountability. And at the state level, temp workers led by Chicago Workers’ Collaborative and Warehouse Workers for Justice are championing the landmark Responsible Job Creation Act (HB 690), which promises fair assumptions in cases of retaliation among other improvements in how workplace laws are enforced when companies use the temp industry in Illinois. For more information on the Chicago Office of Labor Standards campaign, visit For more information on the Illinois Responsible Job Creation Act, visit Read our testimony on the need for RJCA and launching our joint report with the National Staffing Worker Alliance, Temporary Work Permanent Abuse, in Chicago.