WBEZ | Economy http://www.wbez.org/news/economy Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Uber's troubles mount even as its value grows http://www.wbez.org/news/ubers-troubles-mount-even-its-value-grows-111221 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/reuters.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Uber, the ride-sharing service that is <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/04/368550291/uber-is-richer-than-ever-but-the-company-still-isnt-playing-nice" target="_blank">growing in value</a>, is also watching its troubles mount.</p><p>It&#39;s latest woes are in California where, as NPR&#39;s Laura Sydell tells our Newscast unit, the attorneys general of San Francisco and Los Angeles counties are suing Uber. Here&#39;s more from Sydell&#39;s report:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Prosecutors say that Uber misrepresents and exaggerates how extensively it does background checks on drivers. Uber searches publicly available data bases on individuals but prosecutors say it needs to take finger prints to check for criminal histories like traditional taxi companies.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>Complaints against the company fall into two broad categories: One is the accusation that it doesn&#39;t screen its drivers properly; the other is the fact that it lacks permits to operate or is unregulated, and hence the charge that Uber has an unfair advantage over traditional taxis.</p><p><strong>Driver screening: </strong>The service was banned this week in the Indian capital, New Delhi, where an Uber driver is <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/goatsandsoda/2014/12/10/369589675/alleged-rape-of-passenger-raises-concerns-about-how-uber-runs-abroad" target="_blank">accused of raping</a> a female passenger. Similarly, in Chicago, police said <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-chicago-investigating-uber-driver-20141209-story.html" target="_blank">today</a> they are investigating allegations that an Uber driver sexually assaulted a passenger.</p><p><strong>Permits: </strong><a href="http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2014/12/uber_to_portland_we_will_conti.html" target="_blank">Authorities in Portland, Ore.</a>, shutdown the service Dec. 10, saying its drivers don&#39;t have permits to operate in the city. A day earlier, a <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/business-30395093" target="_blank">judge in Spain</a> ordered Uber to stop its service in the country after protests by taxi drivers. Also this month, <a href="http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=nl&amp;u=http://www.telegraaf.nl/binnenland/23423484/__Uber__beroep_over_uitspraak_app__.html&amp;prev=search" target="_blank">a Dutch court said</a> the company&#39;s low-cost UberPop service could not operate in the Netherlands, and <a href="http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/transport/448541/uber-privately-owned-vehicles-banned-in-thailand" target="_blank">Thailand</a> ordered the company to stop operations, too. In <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-08/rio-police-probing-illegal-uber-amid-car-seizure-threat.html" target="_blank">Rio de Janeiro</a>, Uber drivers were told to get off the road or risk having their cars seized. Uber says it will appeal those decisions, and continue to operate in some places where it has been <a href="http://www.oregonlive.com/commuting/index.ssf/2014/12/uber_to_portland_we_will_conti.html" target="_blank">ordered to stop</a>.</p><p>The developments comes amid a financial windfall for the San Francisco-based company. Uber <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/04/368550291/uber-is-richer-than-ever-but-the-company-still-isnt-playing-nice" target="_blank">announced last week</a> that it raised $1.2 billion in its latest round of financing. It&#39;s now valued at more than $40 billion. That valuation came, as NPR&#39;s Sam Sanders reported, amid bad press for the company. Sanders noted:</p><blockquote><p>&quot;Uber drivers have been <a href="http://www.buzzfeed.com/johanabhuiyan/behind-the-scenes-of-ubers-biggest-driver-protest" target="_blank">striking for higher fares</a>. The company has come under fire for how it uses ride data, with some even accusing Uber of keeping track of <a href="https://gigaom.com/2012/03/26/uber-one-night-stands/" target="_blank">riders&#39; one-night stands</a>. Recently, an Uber executive alluded to the possibility of <a href="http://www.npr.org/2014/11/18/365015988/uber-executive-lashes-out-at-journalists-after-negative-publicity" target="_blank">spying on journalists</a>.</p><p>&quot;Uber has also been accused of going to extreme lengths to bring down competitors. The company has hired <a href="http://www.theverge.com/2014/8/26/6067663/this-is-ubers-playbook-for-sabotaging-lyft" target="_blank">stealth riders</a>, giving them burner phones to cancel fares, and giving them cash payments to lure drivers from other services like Lyft.&quot;</p></blockquote><p>&mdash; <em><a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/12/10/369922099/ubers-troubles-mount-even-as-its-value-grows" target="_blank">via NPR</a></em></p></p> Thu, 11 Dec 2014 10:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/ubers-troubles-mount-even-its-value-grows-111221 CPS students take on 'Hour of Code' http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-students-take-hour-code-111210 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/code.PNG" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-40f3cbe1-30f9-957f-253b-6b17f3cdf0d5">Some students in Chicago Public Schools started learning a new language today: The language of computers.</p><p dir="ltr">CPS students took part in a global event, called the <a href="http://hourofcode.com/us">Hour of Code</a>, which gets teenagers, and this year even <a href="http://www.cnet.com/news/obama-jumps-in-to-hour-of-code-event-with-a-little-javascript/">President Barack Obama</a>, taking a crack at computer coding.</p><p dir="ltr">At <a href="http://wellshs.cps.k12.il.us/">Wells Community Academy High School</a> in West Town, about 40 teenagers filled the library. Each one of the kids huddled around a computer.</p><p dir="ltr">Music Teacher Martha Ciurla kicked things off.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to get started,&rdquo; Ciurla says. &ldquo;Now remember, all over the world, at this very hour, at this very moment, there are other kids doing the same exact thing; they are also learning to code because it&rsquo;s a pretty important thing, especially nowadays.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Most people can&rsquo;t go a whole day without using technology,&rdquo; says Angel Sanchez, a sophomore at Wells. &ldquo;Everything revolves around technology and so many careers revolve around knowing this stuff.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Sanchez is hunched over a computer with Traeshaun Norwood, who tells me he already knows he wants to be a video game engineer someday.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I actually think it&rsquo;s fun because the career I&rsquo;m trying to get into now is going to involve a lot of coding,&rdquo; Norwood says.</p><p dir="ltr">Lucky for him, Wells is going to have a new program next year to help him do that.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re going to start a new computer science academy, starting next year, so it&rsquo;s an entire sequence using the gaming platform,&rdquo; says Wells Principal Rita Raichoudhuri. &ldquo;So students are going to learn how to code the program, but using video games. They&rsquo;re going to create their own video games.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Raichoudhuri says the program is a series of four courses; the final one&rsquo;s an Advanced Placement Computer Science class.</p><p dir="ltr">And it isn&rsquo;t just the library that&rsquo;s filled today. Every student &nbsp;at Wells is logged on to code.org &ndash; trying out different sequences on popular games, like <a href="https://www.angrybirds.com/">Angry Birds</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, if you want to move the bird forward four spaces and then have it turn right, you would drag the block labeled &ldquo;repeat five times,&rdquo; change the five to a four and then underneath that, drop the block labeled &ldquo;move forward&rdquo;. And then you can give it a test run.</p><p dir="ltr">So it&rsquo;s not exactly the complex coding you might be thinking of.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;What these Hour of Code exercises do, it takes out the complexity of the language itself and it puts everything in a block, sort of what we call pseudo-code,&rdquo; says Emmanuel San Miguel. &ldquo;It just shows you how easy it is to pass commands into a computer and see it do something.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">San Miguel is a volunteer and a developer with the company <a href="http://www.8thlight.com/">8th Light</a> downtown. He says he&rsquo;s entirely self-taught and actually got his degree in marketing.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;If I had the opportunity to try out code before I went in to college, I probably would&rsquo;ve gone into computer science,&rdquo; San Miguel says.</p><p dir="ltr">For kids not interested in coding or computer science careers, there was still a pretty simple teenage reason for taking on the Hour of Code.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Whoever gets through the programs first, wins lunch,&rdquo; Ciurla announced halfway through the hour.</p><p dir="ltr">Fifteen minutes later, &nbsp;sophomores Sanchez and Norwood finished their final problem. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Ms. Ciurla! We completed the Hour of Code,&rdquo; they shouted in unison.</p><p dir="ltr">But 45 minutes was not fast enough.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;You guys came in second place, because they finished a minute ago, but I&rsquo;ll put your names down; if not, I&rsquo;ll bring you guys donuts on Monday,&rdquo; Ciurla tells them. &ldquo;Good job! You guys can start the other one if you want.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Becky Vevea is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZeducation">@WBEZeducation</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:31:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-students-take-hour-code-111210 Rules of the ramps: Surviving while homeless in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/news/rules-ramps-surviving-while-homeless-chicago-111207 <p><p>The City of Chicago does a regular count of people who are homeless here. The most recent survey puts the count at more than 6,000 people at any given time&mdash;though advocates say that at some time over the course of a year more than 100,000 individual people are homeless. Many of them are visible as they sleep in parks or panhandle on the streets.&nbsp; But they&rsquo;re still mostly invisible and unknown.&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p><strong>Photos: <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/rules-ramps-surviving-while-homeless-chicago-111207#norma" target="_self">A tour of the hut where Norma lives</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>That changed for me over the past year, as I went out to meet some of the people who ask for money along Chicago&rsquo;s expressway exit ramps. I learned about their lives, and the &ldquo;rules of the ramp&rdquo; they survive by. We&#39;ve included the audio of some of their stories here.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bud.jpeg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Bud at the expressway ramp where he asks those driving by for money. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" /></div><p>I met Bud about a year ago. He used to be a forklift operator in Bolingbrook and after he lost that job, he tried to hold his family&rsquo;s finances together through various remodeling and temp jobs. He struck me as a very unlikely person to be out here working the ramps in Chicago. He panhandled at the Kennedy exit ramp near Diversey and Keeler. He lived in a sort of mini-tent city under the Kennedy expressway.</p><p>Bud told me that &ldquo;rarely a day goes by&rdquo; when someone didn&#39;t give him two pennies for his efforts. He politely says &ldquo;thank you&rdquo; he tells me, laughing. Sort of his way of one-upping them.</p><p>Some of his fellow ramp workers report that if they get pennies, they throw that &ldquo;sh&mdash;&quot; back at the driver. But Bud said that&rsquo;s bad strategy.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to cause a scene,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Others will see that and they won&rsquo;t want to give either.&rdquo;</p><p>Plus, Bud didn&#39;t want other people in their cars to think he&rsquo;s ungrateful.</p><p>&ldquo;What am I going to say?&rdquo; Bud said. &ldquo;You&rsquo;re not giving me enough money? I can&rsquo;t get mad at someone about their money.&rdquo;</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 22.3999996185303px; line-height: 22px;">Rules of the ramps</span></p><p>I started hearing anecdotes like this about a year ago. That&rsquo;s when I noticed that there never seems to be more than one panhandler at a time at any given ramp&mdash;which seems to suggest a <em>system</em> of some sort. So I started asking if there are rules that govern what happens at the ramps.</p><p>There was no science behind my little investigation. But it turns out there is a system of sorts. If you listen to their stories, you&rsquo;ll hear the &ldquo;findings&rdquo; of my study within the context of their complex lives. The rules of the ramps are roughly the following:</p><ul><li>No one &ldquo;owns&rdquo; a spot, and it&rsquo;s basically &ldquo;first come, first served&rdquo; at the ramps. But if you&rsquo;ve worked there for weeks or months, you have earned &ldquo;dibs&rdquo; on that spot.</li><li>Even if you consider it to be &ldquo;your&rdquo; spot, if you&rsquo;ve earned some money and someone else is waiting &ndash; let them on the ramp. Because everyone needs to eat.</li><li>Don&rsquo;t walk right up to someone&rsquo;s car. Don&rsquo;t ever tap on someone&rsquo;s car window. Don&rsquo;t intimidate or harass people.</li><li>If someone gives you pennies, hold onto it. It all starts to add up.</li><li>Don&rsquo;t panhandle in the rain. Drivers don&rsquo;t want to roll down their windows and get wet. You won&rsquo;t earn much.</li><li>&nbsp;Give the ramp a &ldquo;rest.&rdquo; If drivers always see panhandlers at a given ramp, they become weary and won&rsquo;t donate. It&rsquo;s called &ldquo;burning up the spot.&rdquo;&nbsp; Note: This &ldquo;rule&rdquo; is contested. Many ramp workers think it&rsquo;s fine for a ramp to be &ldquo;staffed&rdquo; all the time.</li><li>Asking for money with a sign is not &quot;begging&quot;. When you walk up to someone and ask for money with words &ndash; that&rsquo;s &quot;begging&quot;. Note: This &ldquo;rule&rdquo; is contested too.</li><li>If you don&rsquo;t want to be judged&mdash;and even pre-judged &ndash; don&rsquo;t&nbsp;work the ramps.</li></ul><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 22.3999996185303px; line-height: 22px;">To give or not to give</span></p><p>Some experts on homelessness advise the public not to donate to panhandlers. Nonie Brennan is CEO at an organization called All Chicago, Making Homelessness History. She never gives to panhandlers.</p><p>&ldquo;And I strongly encourage people not to give money to panhandlers,&quot; Brennan said. &quot;If somebody is interested in helping with the issue of homelessness, there are a number of excellent organizations that could really benefit from a donation and you can get a tax receipt and then you know where your money is going. And you know that your money is actually helping something. If you&rsquo;re giving to panhandlers you don&rsquo;t know where your money&rsquo;s going and you don&rsquo;t know what it&rsquo;s doing.&rdquo;</p><p>Last winter I also talked to Jim LoBianco, former head of homeless services in the Daley administration and until recently, executive director at Streetwise, an organization probably best known for the newspaper it publishes and its ubiquitous newspaper vendors. Streetwise is also a full-scale social service agency.</p><p>LoBianco is also convinced that, in general, donating to panhandlers isn&rsquo;t a good idea. Though he says sometimes breaks his own rule and donates a sizable amount&mdash;$25 or more&mdash;if he thinks the person is in real crisis and needs to immediately get off the street.</p><p>LoBianco says at a shelter, someone who is homeless might get access to other services.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The difference between begging on an expressway ramp and getting enough money to go into a McDonalds and buy yourself a hamburger, versus picking yourself up and going to a local soup kitchen run by charity, is that when you walk into that soup kitchen you&rsquo;re not only going to get the meal&mdash;you&rsquo;re going to be engaged by someone who has some basic case management experience,&quot; LoBianco said. &quot;And you&rsquo;re going to be engaged by somebody who could actually say, &lsquo;What&rsquo;s the bigger picture going on in your life? Why are you forced to beg on the streets? Why are you in such crisis? How do we solve that problem?&rsquo; No one is walking into a soup kitchen in this city without being engaged at that level.&rdquo;</p><p>But a number of panhandlers told me this is not their experience.&nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/tony.jpg" style="height: 464px; width: 620px;" title="Tony has tried using resources from social service agencies but says he has never been offered access to job training. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" /></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">Take Tony. He has an associate&rsquo;s degree in business hospitality and worked for eight years as a sous chef for Marriott Hotels in Detroit, he says.&nbsp;He regularly stays at an emergency shelter and I ask if he&rsquo;s ever tried to get help from an&nbsp;actual social service agency in Chicago?</div><div><p>&quot;Yeah, I have,&rdquo; Tony tells me. &quot;But actually, all they do is refer you to a shelter. That&rsquo;s the feedback I done got from &lsquo;em. &#39;Well, this shelter here&mdash;&nbsp;have you tried this shelter?&rsquo;&nbsp;&nbsp;Like far as trying to find low-income housing and stuff like that &ndash; they don&rsquo;t do that. If they do, they put you on a lottery waiting list. And for some reason, my name never got pulled..&rdquo;</p><p>Okay, social service agencies &nbsp;have not, thus far, found you permanent housing, I told him. But have they ever tried to hook you up with job training&nbsp;&mdash; or an actual job?</p><p>&ldquo;I ain&rsquo;t never heard social service say anything about job training. Never.&rdquo; Tony says.</p><p>&nbsp;And he asks if the people who told me this know I&rsquo;m a reporter?</p><p>&nbsp;&ldquo;Basically they&#39;re probably telling you what you want to hear. When one of us go up there, it&rsquo;s something totally different,&rdquo; he advises me. &nbsp;</p></div><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/deedeecrop.jpg" style="float: right; height: 401px; width: 300px;" title="Dee-Dee panhandles in Chicago. (WBEZ/Linda Paul)" />Dee-Dee panhandles on the expressway ramps too. She&#39;s gone to a social service agency and says she knows very nice people there.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;[But] for you to get a place to stay, or any kinda help, it could be two or three years down the road,&quot; she said. &quot;And that ain&rsquo;t gonna help me right now.&rdquo;</div><div class="image-insert-image "><br />She says social service agencies are well-meaning and they&rsquo;ll put you on a list for help.</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><div class="image-insert-image ">&ldquo;But in the meantime, what you gonna do? You gotta get out there and hustle&mdash;or fall by the wayside. I mean we can&rsquo;t live with no money in our pocket. I mean you get into emergency situations. I&rsquo;m a woman, like, I get my monthly like... what am I gonna do? Like try and run and find a service agency &ndash; &#39;Oh I need tampons right now!&#39; No. If I can&rsquo;t get no money out here, I&rsquo;m gonna go to Walgreens and steal me some tampons&hellip;. So I gotta do, what I gotta do. If I&rsquo;m hungry, I gotta eat.&rdquo;<p>Many of the ramp workers I talked to acknowledged that there are lots of panhandlers who are mentally ill, strung out on drugs or alcoholics. Or all of the above. And most of them also acknowledged they themselves had a substance abuse problem at some point in their lives. But several insisted that was no longer the case. Now they were simply down on their luck.</p><p>Were they lying? Probably some were&mdash;and some weren&rsquo;t.</p><p>But I know this for sure: I met some pretty high-functioning people on the ramps, many who had held jobs and hope to again.</p><p><em>Audio production of Norma, Ed, Bud and Steven&#39;s stories by Ken Davis</em></p></div><div class="image-insert-image "><em>Follow along this week as WBEZ digs deeper into the issue of homelessness in Chicago.</em></div><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 22.3999996185303px; line-height: 22px;">A photo tour of Norma&#39;s hut<a name="norma"></a></span><iframe allowfullscreen="" height="380px" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://zeega.com/170427/embed" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 09 Dec 2014 10:47:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/rules-ramps-surviving-while-homeless-chicago-111207 Chicago raises its minimum wage as efforts stall at state level http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-raises-its-minimum-wage-efforts-stall-state-level-111179 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/springfield_0_2.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago aldermen have voted 44 to 5 to raise the minimum wage to $13 an hour over the next five years. But a very similar debate is bubbling up in Springfield, where legislation could be passed that would undo the work of the Chicago City Council.</p><p>The minimum wage, of course, isn&rsquo;t a new topic. Illinoisans have been bombarded with talk about the minimum wage, from the campaign trail for Illinois governor to the streets of Chicago where some fast food workers have been protesting about their low wages.</p><p>But suddenly last week, there was action from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office.</p><p>&ldquo;Last week, there were rising forces that were talking about not allowing the city to move,&rdquo; he said Tuesday.</p><p>Those forces he referred to are Springfield lawmakers that Emanuel said were going to pull the rug out from under the City Council - locking them out of making any decisions on the city&rsquo;s minimum wage.</p><p>So the day after Thanksgiving, Emanuel announced aldermen would come together for a special meeting Tuesday to vote on his plan to boost the city&rsquo;s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019. After that, wages would be linked to inflation. Forty-four alderman supported that plan.</p><p>&ldquo;Dixon, Illinois, and Chicago, Illinois, are different economies,&rdquo; Alderman John Arena (45) said. &ldquo;So it is right that we are able to manage our affairs on this matter. That we are able to pay workers in Chicago who have higher housing costs, higher heating costs, higher costs of transportation, to have a higher wage to go along with that.&rdquo;</p><p>But five other aldermen say they&rsquo;re worried about the cost to local business owners. Tom Tunney is both the 44th ward Alderman and owner of Ann Sather restaurants and catering, and according to him, it&rsquo;s already tough enough for businesses.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s so much pressure on brick and mortar with the internet and how it&rsquo;s driving prices down. You&rsquo;ve seen it in your neighborhoods: the card shop is gone. The handy man shop is gone,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>But Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said the low wage workers can&rsquo;t wait. Especially since Illinois governor-elect Bruce Rauner&rsquo;s plan to boost the minimum wage won&rsquo;t happen overnight.</p><p>&ldquo;They want to do tort reform, tax reform, and a number of other reforms before we get to that - workers compensation. As someone who spent 11 years in Springfield - each and every one of those is a huge undertaking that will not be done quickly. Years will go by,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The first boost kicks in next July - when the Chicago minimum wage will increase from $8.25 to $10 an hour.</p><p>Meanwhile, Illinois state lawmakers are in Springfield for perhaps the final week until the new governor is sworn in next month. A lot of attention has been placed on what the state will do about the minimum wage.</p><p>The debate in Springfield has some wondering what it means for their own business, like Dan Costello. He runs Home Run Inn pizza restaurants in multiple locations around Chicago.</p><p>One location is in Chicago&rsquo;s Beverly neighborhood, which is just a few blocks from the city limits. Costello says Chicago City Council&rsquo;s vote for a higher minimum wage puts him at a disadvantage to his pizza joint neighbors and it&rsquo;ll force him to raise prices.</p><p>&ldquo;I think we have a great product, but at the end of the day, can I charge 10, 12, 15 percent more than the guy down the street? I don&rsquo;t know and that&rsquo;s what scares me,&rdquo; he said.&nbsp;</p><p>Costello says he favors raising the minimum wage, he just wants the whole state to raise the wage, too.</p><p>&ldquo;Then we&rsquo;re all in the same boat,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>On the other side of the city limits is Park Cleaners, a dry cleaners in Evergreen Park. Cindy Custer is behind the counter, greeting customers on a first-name basis.</p><p>&ldquo;So what are you gonna do? You gonna make everybody get jobs in the city because the minimum wage is higher? What&rsquo;s gonna happen to the people that own businesses in other towns and villages, you know?&rdquo; she asked.</p><p>Both Costello and Custer - and even the mayor of Evergreen Park - feel that they&rsquo;re at the mercy of what&rsquo;s decided in Springfield this week. And what lawmakers are up to is still up in the air.</p><p>It could undo what Chicago&rsquo;s City Council passed yesterday, and make one uniform minimum wage rate for the entire state. There&rsquo;s no guarantee that has enough support, even though a referendum on last month&rsquo;s ballot asking voters about a higher minimum wage passed by a wide margin.</p><p>Lawmakers have until Thursday to pass a bill that would set a new minimum wage, and maybe put Chicago&rsquo;s wages at the same level as its bordering suburbs.</p><p><em>Follow Lauren Chooljian <a href="http://twitter.com/laurenchooljian" target="_blank">@laurenchooljian</a>. Follow Tony Arnold <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 02 Dec 2014 18:10:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/chicago-raises-its-minimum-wage-efforts-stall-state-level-111179 Labor unions celebrate judge's ruling against Illinois pension law http://www.wbez.org/news/labor-unions-celebrate-judges-ruling-against-illinois-pension-law-111148 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/springfield_0_0.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>An Illinois judge has ruled unconstitutional a controversial plan to reduce state employees&rsquo; retirement benefits.<br /><br />Labor groups sued the State of Illinois for passing a bill reducing their members&rsquo; pension benefits. The unions representing downstate and suburban teachers, university employees and most other state workers argued the state constitution says, specifically, that retirement benefits can&rsquo;t be diminished. On Friday, Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge John Belz agreed.</p><p>Belz quoted directly from the state constitution in his six-page decision, citing the passage that states retirement benefits &ldquo;shall not be diminished or repaired.&rdquo; He singled out components of the bill that narrowly passed the state legislature last year to explain why he was ruling against the state. For instance, the law changed cost-of-living increases certain employees receive in retirement, and put a cap on some employees&rsquo; pensionable salary.</p><p>&ldquo;The State of Illinois made a constitutionally protected promise to its employees concerning their pension benefits,&rdquo; Belz wrote in his decision. &ldquo;Under established and uncontroverted Illinois law, the State of Illinois cannot break this promise.&rdquo;</p><p>Labor unions representing employees who are in those retirement systems celebrated the decision.</p><p>&ldquo;The court granted us everything. The court saw it our way,&rdquo; said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. &ldquo;This is an unambiguous, unequivocal victory for the constitution and for working people.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Retirees who earned their modest security in retirement, they always paid their share. And they should not be punished for the failures of politicians,&rdquo; said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the We Are One Coalition, a group of labor unions.</p><p>Attorneys who defended the bill acknowledged that it reduced benefits, but argued it is needed to deal with a $105 billion unfunded pension liability. Studies have shown that massive debt tied to Illinois&rsquo; retirement payments is the worst of any state in the country.</p><p>Gov. Pat Quinn, and those who supported the legislation, argue basic functions of state government are in danger if the pension law is found to be unconstitutional.</p><p>&ldquo;This historic pension reform law eliminates the state&rsquo;s unfunded liability and fully stabilizes the systems to ensure retirement security for employees who have faithfully contributed to them,&rdquo; Quinn said in a statement.</p><p>The Democratic governor was defeated in this month&rsquo;s election by Republican Bruce Rauner, who also released a statement asking the state&rsquo;s Supreme Court to take up the case as soon as possible.</p><p>The office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan is defending the law in court. Her office said Friday that it will ask the state Supreme Court to expedite an appeal &ldquo;given the significant impact that a final decision in this case will have on the state&rsquo;s fiscal condition.&rdquo;</p><p>Meantime, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton is considering a plan, in case the state Supreme Court agrees with Judge Belz and throws out the law. Cullerton had pushed for a separate pension proposal that would ask employees to choose between earning state-funded health care coverage in retirement or receiving pay increases.</p><p>&ldquo;If they throw it out, we&rsquo;ll be back to square one and then we go back again to the alternative that already passed the Senate and when that passes, save some money that we can then pass on to education funding and whatever else we want to utilize that savings,&rdquo; Cullerton said Friday.</p><p>Legislators would have to re-visit Cullerton&rsquo;s proposal in a new General Assembly, after January&rsquo;s inauguration.</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:19:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/labor-unions-celebrate-judges-ruling-against-illinois-pension-law-111148 CPS chief backs the mayor's $13-an-hour minimum wage http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-chief-backs-mayors-13-hour-minimum-wage-111138 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Board of Ed at Westinghouse.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>The head of Chicago Public Schools is making a political statement supporting Mayor Rahm Emanuel, ahead of February&rsquo;s municipal elections.</p><p>CPS CEO Barbara Bryd-Bennett told the Board of Education Wednesday that the district wants to move to a $13-per-hour minimum wage. The statement falls in line with <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-emanuel-minimum-wage-hike-push-20140930-story.html" target="_blank">other city agencies</a>, like the Chicago Park District.</p><p>The budget implications of a $13-per-hour minimum wage for CPS workers and contract employees would still need to be worked out internally, CPS officials said.</p><p>Alderman Jason Ervin, of the 28th Ward, urged board members to consider the $15-an-hour wage he and other aldermen are pushing. The meeting was in Ervin&rsquo;s ward, at Westinghouse College Prep, making it the first board meeting held in a community since 2004, when the board met at Orr Academy. It was also the first time in several years the board has met in the evening. Typically, board meetings start at 10 a.m. at CPS&rsquo;s downtown headquarters.</p><p>CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said they moved the meeting into a community and held it in the evening in order to give more people the opportunity to come. The district is also in the process of moving its offices to a new building downtown.</p><p>The meeting, which took place in Westinghouse&rsquo;s auditorium, had a larger crowd than usual and frequent interruptions from audience members. One of the biggest gripes had to do with a recent Chicago Tribune <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/cpsbonds/" target="_blank">investigation into CPS&rsquo;s debt payments</a> on risky interest rate swap deals. Those deals were entered into when now-Board President David Vitale was the district&rsquo;s chief financial officer.</p><p>Tara Stamps, a teacher at Jenner Elementary in Old Town, spoke about a lack of funding for the school&rsquo;s arts program, even though the school is designated as a fine arts school.</p><p>&ldquo;How is it that you can say you want this kind of student, but you don&rsquo;t want to make that kind of investment?&rdquo; Stamps asked. &ldquo;You&rsquo;d rather not renegotiate these toxic deals and squander what could be hundreds of millions of dollars that could go into classrooms that could create well-rounded classrooms where children are appreciated and they learn and they thrive. But you don&rsquo;t. You refuse. You will not arbitrate. You will not renegotiate. You will not do any of the initial steps to get some of that money back.&rdquo;</p><p>The Chicago Teachers Union first sounded the alarm on the bank deals in 2011, but board members and CPS officials repeatedly dismissed the issue.</p><p>&ldquo;Three years we&rsquo;ve been coming here and being told that our facts are wrong, that we just don&rsquo;t understand, and being dismissed by Mr. Vitale,&rdquo; said Matthew Luskin, a CPS parent and organizer for the CTU. &ldquo;A full week of Trib headlines tell a very different story.&rdquo;</p><p>Luskin said he understands that CPS cannot just cancel the contracts with the banks, but he pushed the board to file for arbitration to renegotiate the contracts, and &ldquo;take a stand.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;They could call these banks out, blame them for the cuts and closings that have happened, instead of blaming retirees and parents and children who take up too many resources,&rdquo; Luskin said. &ldquo;They could announce that CPS won&rsquo;t do business with these banks anymore if they refuse to renegotiate.&rdquo;</p><p>McCaffrey with CPS said the district is monitoring the risks of its swap portfolio closely, &ldquo;including the possibility of termination.&rdquo; But he also said, by the district&rsquo;s calculation, the deals saved more than $30 million in interest costs compared to the costs of fixed-rate bonds.</p><p>The debt payments and the minimum wage weren&rsquo;t the only issues raised at the meeting. Two librarians came to speak about the <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/losing-school-librarians-chicago-public-schools-110547" target="_blank">reassignments and layoffs of full-time librarians</a>.</p><p>&ldquo;The loss of school librarians is especially alarming in CPS high schools where there are now only 38 high schools with librarians,&rdquo; said Nora Wiltse, a school librarian at Coonley Elementary.</p><p>A student and a teacher from Kelly High School came to sound the alarm on <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/custodial-contract-causing-problems-start-school-year-110767" target="_blank">cleanliness at their school since Aramark</a> took over CPS&rsquo;s janitorial services.</p><p>The Board also approved <a href="http://www.wbez.org/cps-changes-school-ratingsagain-111118" target="_blank">a new school rating policy</a>.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/177839305&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p></p> Thu, 20 Nov 2014 13:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cps-chief-backs-mayors-13-hour-minimum-wage-111138 What’s filling the gap in small business lending? http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-filling-gap-small-business-lending-111115 <p><p>Since the financial crisis, small business owners have had greater challenges getting loans. Traditional banks rarely lend those small amounts, and the community banks that typically serviced those loans have shrunk significantly.<br /><br />That lending gap has been a boon for a rapidly growing financial product called a merchant cash advance. Business owners can quickly get the money they need, but it can come at a very high price.</p><p>Edgar Jones explained that many in his position don&rsquo;t have other options. Jones asked to change his name for the story. He owns a company that cleans commercial sites. With less than 15 employees, the company makes about $500,000 in revenue each year. After booking a big job to do post-construction clean-up, Jones needed fast cash to buy more equipment. But the bank wouldn&rsquo;t approve the small loan he was looking for. So he turned to a merchant cash advance, or MCA.</p><p>&ldquo;At that time, you be so vulnerable you take it because you really need the money at that time. After that, that&rsquo;s when things either go uphill or downhill,&rdquo; Jones said.</p><p>The MCA company deposited the money in Jones&rsquo; account and began collecting on that debt the next day.</p><p>&ldquo;When the checks don&rsquo;t come on time, then they hit your account and then your account is in the negative,&rdquo; Jones said.</p><p>So when the repayment period was up, Jones said his bank account was still being drained. In order to pay off his most recent advance, he had to take on side jobs.</p><p>Jones&rsquo; credit score wasn&rsquo;t much of a factor in getting approval for the merchant cash advance. What mattered most was his daily cash flow.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s how it works. The MCA firm will deposit a lump sum into the business&rsquo; account, and then repayment can happen one of two ways. The MCA firm could collect by taking a cut of the business&rsquo; daily credit card sales. If there&rsquo;s no credit card sale that day, there&rsquo;s no collection.</p><p>With the other repayment plan, the MCA firm takes a daily withdrawal from the business&rsquo; account. If there&rsquo;s no sale that day, the MCA firm still debit the account. The repayment period is usually a short amount of time, like 90 days.</p><p>Sean Murray with the Daily Funder, a merchant cash advance forum, said it&rsquo;s the business owners&rsquo; responsibility to comb over the fine print. He hasn&rsquo;t heard of bad actors in the industry, but said he&rsquo;d be disappointed if the contract wasn&rsquo;t fully explained.<br /><br />&ldquo;At the end of the day, if they don&rsquo;t get back their money. It hurts them, too,&rdquo; Murray said.<br /><br />Merchant cash advances first came on the scene in the late 90s, but really took off after the financial crisis. Murray expects this industry to be worth about $5 billion for 2014. That&rsquo;s small compared to the personal lending industry, but it&rsquo;s big growth from the millions MCAs earned before the financial crisis.</p><p>Murray said the interest rate on an APR basis does seem high, upwards of 80 percent.</p><p>&ldquo;But what&rsquo;s important to note when we&rsquo;re talking about costs that are high like that---these loans sound really, really high--is that these loans amortize daily. And so the actual cost of the money might only be 20 percent. Let&rsquo;s say I give you $10,000 and the cost is $2,000, so that&rsquo;s 20 percent,&rdquo; Murray explained.</p><p>The MCA might be referred to as a loan, but it isn&rsquo;t the traditional personal loan with which most are familiar. It escapes the scrutiny of regulation.<br /><br />&ldquo;Merchant cash advances are business-to-business transactions. They don&rsquo;t involve consumers. The consumer protections that exist elsewhere in the market don&rsquo;t really apply to businesses. It doesn&rsquo;t mean there are no laws, and it&rsquo;s a free for all. But the laws are generally pretty lax,&rdquo; Murray said.</p><p>There&rsquo;s not really a central office these companies report to. It&rsquo;s not something that state lawmakers are keeping an eye on either.</p><p>Murray said people can certainly file any complaints with the Federal Trade Commission. He said the general industry consensus is that self-policing is the best option.<br /><br />&ldquo;Regulators come in and have a tendency to see part of the picture. It makes things more difficult for everyone else in the long run. It ends up hurting the customers they&rsquo;re trying to protect rather than helping them,&rdquo; Murray said.</p><p>Kevin Daleiden is the owner of Flange Advantage in Waukegan. He and two other men sell nuts and bolts out of a warehouse. Daleiden&rsquo;s taken out at least seven merchant cash advances. He said he&rsquo;s planned carefully for each one, but has still been caught off guard by fees he didn&rsquo;t notice in the contract terms.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the hardest things to get out of people at the very front is give me the payoff information. Give me the way I pay this back to you. There&rsquo;s not a one of them out there that will tell you the facts upfront. And they won&rsquo;t put it in writing until you&rsquo;re signing the documents,&rdquo; Daleiden said.</p><p>He said he&rsquo;s constantly getting calls, emails and letters from MCA firms trying to get him to sign a deal.</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know how they get my name, but there&rsquo;s hundreds of these companies out there and I think they call me everyday. I&rsquo;ve had one gentleman that yelled at me, says &lsquo;you need to give me all your business.&rsquo; I said &lsquo;I&rsquo;ll give my business to who I feel comfortable with,&rsquo; and he actually yelled at me on the phone,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />Daleiden is trying to move away from MCAs and toward microloans. He&rsquo;s now working with the Chicago non-profit Accion for his latest deal.<br /><br />Microloans are what they sound like, smaller loans to small businesses distributed by a qualified non-profit. Accion services amounts $100,000 and less.<br /><br />CEO Jonathan Brereton said it&rsquo;s a better loan option with less than 5 percent defaulting, but MCA firms can distribute the money faster. Brereton admits meeting the demand is a big challenge.</p><p>&ldquo;We think the market has a need and supply, there&rsquo;s still an enormous gap. So we think we&rsquo;re only serving about 15 percent of the market demand in Chicago,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />Brereton said this past year has exploded with clients like Edgar Jones and Kevin Daleiden trying to get out from under merchant cash advances. He&rsquo;s even seen people layering them.<br /><br />&ldquo;So they take one, cash flow gets tight. They take another. We&rsquo;ve seen people take five or six loans from different lenders. All in the 100-190 percent interest range. But no where on any of the agreements does it specify the actual interest rate,&rdquo; Brereton said.<br /><br />The gap in small business lending left behind by the financial crisis allowed merchant cash advances to thrive. The product has helped some businesses increase their revenue when they otherwise wouldn&rsquo;t have.</p><p>But Kevin Daleiden said it&rsquo;s also the reason why some businesses have failed.</p><p>&ldquo;My merchant advances have made them more money than I&rsquo;ve taken home this year, and I&rsquo;m doing the work. But I did that knowing it would be expensive. I had a goal,&rdquo; Daleiden said. &ldquo;If you don&rsquo;t&rsquo; have a long term goal, a way in and a way out, the merchant advances will kill you.&rdquo;</p><p><br /><em>Susie An is the business reporter for WBEZ. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/soosieon">@soosieon</a>.</em></p></p> Tue, 18 Nov 2014 06:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what%E2%80%99s-filling-gap-small-business-lending-111115 SRO tenants gain protections http://www.wbez.org/news/sro-tenants-gain-protections-111093 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/RS7102_IMG_2085 (outside 2)-scr.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Low-income tenants of Chicago&rsquo;s disappearing single-room occupancy hotels have new protections under an ordinance city council approved Wednesday. The &ldquo;Chicago for All&rdquo; ordinance, as it has come to be known, passed 47-2, with only Aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Mary O&rsquo;Connor (41st) opposing. Supporters of the measure hope it will slow the trend of affordable SRO units falling into the hands of for-profit developers who displace low-income tenants.</p><p>&ldquo;This is all a piece of an overall fabric,&rdquo; said Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose office helped broker the compromise between affordable housing advocates and SRO owners. &ldquo;The housing strategy particularly is part of a five-year plan: 41,000 units of affordable housing in the City of Chicago.&quot;</p><p>Emanuel&rsquo;s office worked closely with sponsors Alderman Walter Burnett (27th), Ameya Pawar (47th), and a coalition of organizations including ONE Northside, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and many more.</p><p>The ordinance regulates the sale of SRO buildings such that owners are encouraged to negotiate first with buyers who intend to preserve the building as affordable housing. If an owner opts not to do so, he may sell to for-profit developers and pay into a city SRO preservation fund at the rate of $20,000 per unit in the building. The preservation fund, in turn, could be used to provide forgivable loans to SRO owners who wish to make building improvements, to subsidize building purchases by preservation buyers, and to build new SRO buildings in Chicago.</p><p>&ldquo;In places like the Fourth Ward, we believe that we are doing our fair share when it comes to affordable housing and public housing,&rdquo; said Alderman William Burns (4th).&nbsp; &ldquo;And when we look at other places in the city, we ask what&rsquo;s being done to create affordable housing on the north lakefront? On the North Side of Chicago? So that there&rsquo;s equal opportunity for people to have affordable housing throughout the city&mdash;and particularly in communities where there&rsquo;s access to good schools, jobs, grocery stores, and an opportunity to break down racial segregation in this city?&rdquo;</p><p>Burns and other aldermen praised the ordinance for addressing, in part, the city&rsquo;s shortage of affordable housing. In particular, they cited it as a key way to combat the problem of homeless veterans. Housing advocates estimate about one-quarter of SRO residents are war veterans who might otherwise be homeless. Mayor Emanuel has declared one of his goals in the 2015 budget will be to end veteran homelessness in Chicago.</p><p>Additionally, the ordinance would provide additional financial assistance for SRO residents who are displaced. It would require building owners to pay between $2,000 and $10,600, depending on the circumstances. It would also forbid SRO owners from retaliating against residents who complain to the city or the news media about conditions in their buildings.</p><p>Negotiations between the city, advocates and SRO owners were challenging. Initially, many SRO owners hoped the city would shy away from regulations, and instead offer more financial incentives for them to keep their buildings affordable. But concerns early on that the regulations may be enough to prompt a lawsuit against the city have largely dissipated.</p><p>&ldquo;We were disappointed that the ordinance fell a bit short. We, and so many other stakeholders over about six months had been working very diligently,&rdquo; said Eric Rubenstein, Executive Director of the Single Room Housing Assistance Corporation. &ldquo;We will, as operators, do our very best to work with the plan, with the ordinance, as it was presented.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-6cd3f03c-a623-4dee-4055-9af79ec2a054"><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 12 Nov 2014 16:29:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/sro-tenants-gain-protections-111093 As temp work grows, African Americans push for their fair share http://www.wbez.org/news/temp-work-grows-african-americans-push-their-fair-share-110945 <p><p>Between his wife, children and grandchildren, there are a lot of mouths to feed in Kenny Flowers&rsquo; home. But he says it has been a decade since his last full-time job. And he lost one of his two part-time jobs a few months ago.<br /><br />&ldquo;So I&rsquo;ve been coming to MVP to pick up [work] and just get some honest money,&rdquo; says Flowers, 38, referring to Most Valuable Personnel, part of Personnel Staffing Group, a chain based in the Chicago area with operations in eight states.<br /><br />Flowers, a lifelong resident of the city&rsquo;s West Side, says he has gone at least four times this year to MVP&rsquo;s office in the Town of Cicero, a suburb bordering the city. He says he has spent hours and hours in the waiting room.<br /><br />But MVP has yet to give Flowers any work. Asked why, a company spokesman responds that Flowers &ldquo;calls the office frequently and is advised to come in the following day to be assigned out for work&rdquo; but &ldquo;does not arrive to be sent out.&rdquo;</p><p>Flowers calls that baloney and wonders whether MVP is trying to hide something he has noticed in the waiting room. &ldquo;I see more Latinos going out than I do African Americans,&rdquo; he says.<br /><br />Flowers suspects that many of those Latinos are in the country illegally. He says MVP assigns them work on the belief that unauthorized immigrants are less likely to raise a stink when employers short them out of pay or put them in dangerous conditions. The staffing firm denies that allegation.<br /><br />MVP&rsquo;s Cicero location is among 933 offices of temp agencies registered to operate in Illinois. Nationwide, more than 2.9 million people were employed as temps in September, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Temp jobs, once mostly clerical, are now mainly blue-collar and constitute about 2 percent of the nation&rsquo;s employment.</p><p>Those are all record numbers, but African Americans say they are not getting a fair shot at the work. They are accusing the staffing companies of discrimination. And their claims are getting attention from temp-worker advocates, federal regulators and some Illinois lawmakers.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Few blacks sent to bakery</span></p><p>Flowers takes me to that MVP office, part of a strip mall along the border between Cicero and Chicago. In the waiting room I see more than four dozen blue-collar workers hoping for an assignment. Some say they have been there for hours. While they wait, they are not getting paid. Nearly all are black.<br /><br />I pull out my audio-recording gear and take a few photos of Flowers on the sidewalk, where workers have spilled out from the waiting room. Within minutes a woman who helps run this MVP office comes out and commands everyone to go back inside. Everyone, that is, but Flowers and me. She tells us to leave, and we do.<br /><br />But we do not get far. As I interview Flowers on a residential sidewalk around the corner, a Cicero police car pulls up, then another. &ldquo;We have the subjects,&rdquo; one of officers tells his radio dispatcher.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/waiting%20room.jpg" style="height: 426px; width: 620px;" title="At the Cicero office of Most Valuable Personnel, dozens of black workers fill the waiting room. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" /></div><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m going to need to see IDs from both you gentlemen,&rdquo; the officer tells Flowers and me. The cop says it was MVP that called the police on us.<br /><br />After they run our driver&rsquo;s licenses for warrants, the officers leave us alone. But the whole experience signals that discrimination allegations in the staffing industry have touched a nerve.</p><p>MVP is a defendant in two class-action lawsuits in federal court. Both claim employment discrimination against African Americans. Temp-worker advocates, meanwhile, have come to the company&rsquo;s Cicero office to hand out flyers about wage theft. MVP claims the leafleting is an effort to &ldquo;coerce&rdquo; the company to settle the litigation.</p><p>But Christopher Williams, the attorney who filed the suits, says MVP has only itself to blame. &ldquo;Where there&rsquo;s a staffing agency within two miles of zip codes that have a population that&rsquo;s 97-98 percent African American, why were no African Americans &mdash; almost none &mdash; sent to work jobs at Gold Standard Baking?&rdquo;<br /><br />Gold Standard, an industrial bakery on Chicago&rsquo;s Southwest Side, relies on MVP for labor. The two companies are co-defendants in one of the suits. The claim is that the bakery asked for immigrant temps instead of African American temps and that the staffing agency fulfilled that request.<br /><br />&ldquo;Over a four-year period, when approximately 5,000 workers were sent to Gold Standard Baking, only 85 of those were African American,&rdquo; Williams says. &ldquo;These are low-skilled jobs that people on the West Side of Chicago need to have access to.&rdquo;<br /><br />At the same time, Williams says, MVP focused its recruiting on Spanish-speaking workers, and the company sent out vans to pick them up in heavily immigrant neighborhoods such as Little Village.<br /><br />In court, MVP has countered that the reason its workforce is mostly Latino is because of the office&rsquo;s location. Nearby Chicago neighborhoods may be black, but Cicero is mostly Latino.<br /><br />&ldquo;MVP does not discriminate against African Americans,&rdquo; Elliot Richardson, an attorney for the company, tells me. &ldquo;MVP sends out the very best employees for the positions that fit what those employees can do. There are plenty of job offerings at MVP right now. They are looking for workers. Regardless of their race, we welcome people to come in and to apply.&rdquo;</p><p>Gold Standard officials, for their part, referred WBEZ questions about the suit to a lawyer. He sent a statement that denies the allegations and calls the company &ldquo;an equal opportunity employer&rdquo; that is &ldquo;proud of its diverse workforce.&rdquo;</p><p>Last week MVP brought a suit of its own. The claim, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, accuses the temp-worker advocates and their group, the nonprofit Chicago Workers&rsquo; Collaborative, of defamation.<br /><br />&ldquo;Their goal is to destroy the temporary employment agencies in the city,&rdquo; Richardson says. &ldquo;MVP does not steal its employees&rsquo; wages.&rdquo;<br /><br />The temp-worker advocates respond that they are not trying to destroy the agencies, just some of their practices, such as the alleged race-based hiring.<br /><br />Leone José Bicchieri, the collaborative&rsquo;s executive director, calls it &ldquo;sad that one of the major staffing agencies in the state of Illinois has decided to use so much time, energy, resources and money on lawyers&rdquo; instead of addressing worker grievances. Bicchieri says the defamation suit is an effort to silence workers.<br /><br /><span style="font-size:22px;">Allegations hard to prove</span></p><p>If some temp agencies are discriminating, it is difficult to find out how many. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not tally complaints against staffing firms.</p><p>But a few of those EEOC complaints in recent years have led to six-figure settlements from those companies. &ldquo;There have always been staffing agencies willing to steer employees based on race and other illegal factors, and that&rsquo;s certainly ongoing,&rdquo; said Jean Kamp, a top attorney of the EEOC&rsquo;s Chicago office. &ldquo;As more people are working through staffing agencies, it&rsquo;s more of a problem.&rdquo;<br /><br />Besides filing EEOC complaints, temp workers alleging race-based hiring discrimination&nbsp;are also dragging staffing firms into federal court. In the Chicago area, Williams is representing plaintiffs in three class-action suits. The defendants include MVP, four other temp agencies and three companies that contracted with the agencies for labor.<br /><br />But alleging discrimination is easier than proving it. In court, MVP has claimed that it does not keep records on people who arrive in search of a job. That claim, contradicted by a company vice president at a July forum recorded by WBEZ, has made it difficult for the plaintiffs to gather information about the job seekers&rsquo; race.<br /><br />&ldquo;This issue is about to be resolved,&rdquo; state Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) said last week as he came out with draft legislation that would tighten up record-keeping requirements. His proposal would require staffing firms to keep a contact form on each job seeker and enable those workers to indicate their race and gender on that form. The idea is to make hiring discrimination easier to find.<br /><br />&ldquo;Hopefully we&rsquo;ll get to the bottom line in resolving this open and blatant discrimination against African Americans, [whose] unemployment rate is just as high as our Latino brothers and sisters,&rdquo; Dunkin said.</p><p>The two main trade groups representing temp firms in the state &mdash; the Staffing Services Association of Illinois and the Illinois Search and Staffing Association &mdash; both declined to comment about the discrimination allegations and Dunkin&rsquo;s proposal.<br /><br />Dunkin says he will introduce that bill this fall or winter after gathering co-sponsors.</p><p>In the meantime, Flowers is still hoping to find more income. &ldquo;Holidays are coming up and it&rsquo;s real rough on me,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s going to be winter and the heat and gas bills are going to go up even more. I would like my kids to have a nice Christmas like everybody else.&rdquo;<br /><br />He might be eligible to file a claim under one of the class-action suits against MVP, but the company is not showing much interest in settling.<br /><br />So, Flowers says, he will keep showing up at the temp agency. Some day, he says, it might send him out to work.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:56:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/temp-work-grows-african-americans-push-their-fair-share-110945 How home appraisals are calculated http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/diningroom.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>WBEZ&rsquo;s been looking at why some Chicago neighborhoods aren&rsquo;t recovering as quickly as others in this post bubble market. <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/neighborhood-value-challenge-housing-recovery-110530">As we reported over the summer</a>, part of the measure of a neighborhood is the value -- or appraisal -- of the property there.</p><p>So exactly how is that value measured? I tagged along with an appraiser to find out.</p><p>&ldquo;What is the home consisting of? How many bedrooms, how many bathrooms? What&rsquo;s the floor plan? What&rsquo; the quality of the interior,&rdquo; said Michael Hobbs, president of PahRoo Appraisal and Consultancy. &ldquo;Then, how does that as a package go together and how does that compete with others in proximity.&rdquo;</p><p>He said it&rsquo;s not just about walking through a house. It&rsquo;s also hours of research and looking at comparable properties in the area.</p><p>One of the properties we looked at was a bungalow in the city&rsquo;s Albany Park neighborhood. It was originally listed at $329,900.</p><p>Before we even stepped inside the house, Hobbs sized up the neighborhood to see how this house fits in. The block had a mix of single-family homes and two flat rentals.</p><p>&ldquo;If you look around you can see there&rsquo;s a couple frame properties on the block, a few stucco, but most of them are brick,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs also took note of recent tuck pointing work, updated windows and gutters.</p><p>A placard on the front door notes home&rsquo;s historic bungalow designation.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing we notice as we walk in is the original wood work that&rsquo;s still here, from the flooring to the doors,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Some other original features include vintage brass handles and a certain crown molding common in the early 1900s when the home was built.</p><p>Hobbs took note that the sellers made efforts to preserve these touches to maintain the bungalow&rsquo;s historic status.</p><p>He made note to research what the demand is for vintage properties in this micro market.</p><p>The kitchen also has a retro look.</p><p>&ldquo;This is quite typical for the age. You can see the metal sink, original metal cabinetry,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It&rsquo;s flanked with yellow tile backsplash and a green and blue tile floor. Behind us is a breakfast nook right out of a 50s diner.</p><p>&ldquo;We measure the perimeter of the home. We&rsquo;ll start in one corner and literally measure our way around the property. We make a full floor plan and sketch, and what we&rsquo;re noting here as we&rsquo;re walking through is that this home has 3 bedrooms on the first floor and a bathroom,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The homeowners could&rsquo;ve paid for updates, but Hobbs said that cost wouldn&rsquo;t necessarily result in a higher market value.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s almost no home improvement project that returns 100 percent of the cost to the actual owner. And that&rsquo;s an important clarification for a lot of people. Just because you spent $50,000 doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean you&rsquo;re going to get $50,000 back,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>The home has a large unfinished basement that&rsquo;s mostly dingy, storage space. But it also includes a finished portion with wood paneling--think VFW hall. Hobbs also made note of the water heater and boiler, not to inspect them, but to make note the home has them.</p><p>In the backyard, there&rsquo;s no lawn or garage, but there&rsquo;s a concrete patio and enclosed parking pad.</p><p>&ldquo;The first thing I see is how much shorter the neighboring homes are,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>He points out the home&rsquo;s larger back end and wider lot than those nearby.</p><p>Back inside, the second level of the home opens up into a large red room with white trim and built in shelves, reminiscent of an old classroom.</p><p>&ldquo;As we can see based on the plywood on the floor and the wear on it, this has been here for an awfully long time,&rdquo; Hobbs said.</p><p>For home buyers looking to get a mortgage loan, banks often require an appraisal.</p><p>Regulation post housing crisis is set up to safeguard against collusion between appraisers and bankers, a problem in the past. So now a third party, an appraisal management company assigns the jobs.</p><p>Hobbs said that&rsquo;s sped up the closing of the home deals, which is good for buyers and sellers, but can limit an appraiser&rsquo;s time for thorough market research.</p><p>&ldquo;So we have to make some assumptions. And therefore we end up completing reports in a shorter amount of time and with maybe less of the information we more traditionally would have had because the push is faster, faster, faster,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Hobbs said people often criticize appraisers for the short time they spend looking at a property.</p><p>&ldquo;You were only in my home for 30 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour, how do you know how much it&rsquo;s worth? I&rsquo;m like, we got to go do research,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>That means looking at comparisons or comps nearby. How dissimilar are they and how much might those features change the value of the home we&rsquo;re appraising?</p><p>&ldquo;So it&rsquo;s a matter of both looking back in terms of what has closed. Looking laterally&hellip;buyer activity has chosen that home instead of this one. And then what&rsquo;s active. What&rsquo;s ahead of us in the form of what this buyer looks at as alternatives,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Appraisers get the buyer/seller contract before viewing the property. Hobbs said the appraisal and contract price often end up being the same. He said that doesn&rsquo;t necessarily mean the appraiser was influenced by the offer price.&nbsp; Rather, buyers and sellers have more access to information to make a more informed valuation for themselves.</p><p>&ldquo;Really the appraiser is coming along and documenting the activities of typical buyers and sellers to really confirm that one person isn&rsquo;t way out there,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s your chance to make an appraisal.</p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="3600" scrolling="no" src="https://s3.amazonaws.com/wbez-assets/WBEZ-Graphics/AppraisalQuiz/index.html" width="620"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 07 Oct 2014 21:26:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/how-home-appraisals-are-calculated-110910