Thousands of Chicagoans are being treated unfairly by local temporary staffing agencies that require them to work long hours without always getting full pay, according to several class-action lawsuits currently being litigated in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuits are detailed in an investigation by NBC 5 Investigates' partner, The Chicago Reporter, as part of the publication's two-month-long examination of the rise and increasing use of temporary staffing agencies across the area.
Maria Ines Zamudio, who headed up The Reporter's investigation, interviewed several temporary workers involved in the lawsuits -- as well as labor advocates -- who all told stories of work that went unpaid and limited redress from wage claims filed with the state.
Zamudio found that local staffing agencies often hire low and unskilled workers who have few options to find work.
"Many of the workers are African Americans and Latinos," Zamudio writes, "and several are undocumented and ex-felons."
According to Tim Bell of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, the undocumented workers are told they don't have rights, and workers with criminal records are told no one else will hire them.
Zamudio details the growth of the temporary-staffing industry in Chicago and across Illinois, where the number of temporary workers increased by nearly a third in a recent ten-year period, according to the U.S. Census. Nationally, nearly four out of every five employers now use some kind of temporary staffing arrangement.
For those workers who feel they've been taken advantage of by their temporary-staffing employer, there's limited success in retrieving lost wages, Zamudio found. She examined a sampling of 51 wage claims filed with the Illinois Department of Labor between 2010 and 2013 (the agency refused to let her see all claims filed during that period), and found that half of the claims were dismissed because the department lost contact with the workers. What's more, she found it took an average of six months to process a claim -- not necessarily worth the wait for a low-paid worker who may choose to cut his losses instead, and move on to another job.
Read Zamudio's full investigation on The Chicago Reporter's website, including interviews with several temporary workers and other local labor advocates.
NBC5Investigates and The Chicago Reporter team up occasionally to bring you investigative stories about poverty and race in the Chicago area. To find more Chicago Reporter stories, visit their website.