WBEZ | temporary work http://www.wbez.org/tags/temporary-work Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en 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 Company: Temporary worker to blame for his fatal burns http://www.wbez.org/news/company-temporary-worker-blame-his-fatal-burns-104753 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/raani-outside.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 200px; width: 300px;" title="Raani Corp., a Bedford Park manufacturer of household and grooming products, denies negligence in a wrongful-death suit filed by survivors of the worker, Carlos Centeno. (Logan Jaffe/WBEZ)" /></p><p>The company that was supervising a Chicago-area temporary worker when he suffered fatal burns in 2011 says the man failed to take &ldquo;proper precautions&rdquo; in its factory and calls his conduct &ldquo;the sole proximate cause of the injuries.&rdquo;</p><p>Raani Corp., a Bedford Park manufacturer of household and grooming products, makes those accusations and denies negligence in a 66-page <a href="http://www.scribd.com/doc/119414572">answer</a> to a wrongful-death suit that survivors of Carlos Centeno, 50, filed in Cook County Circuit Court last year.</p><p>Centeno, a Humboldt Park resident&nbsp;scalded over most of his body with a hot citric-acid solution November 17, 2011, died three weeks later in a burn unit of Loyola University Hospital in Maywood. The death triggered inspections by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Those inspections led OSHA to fine the company $473,000 last May for 14 alleged violations.</p><p>An internal OSHA memo, obtained as part of an&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/98-minutes-radio-story-104504">investigation</a> by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity and WBEZ, says more than 98 minutes elapsed after the incident before Centeno reached the hospital.</p><p>Factory officials refused to call an ambulance as Centeno awaited help, shirtless and screaming, OSHA investigators contended. Instead of calling 911, the company had another temporary worker drive Centeno to an occupational health clinic that was not set up to treat life-threatening burns.</p><p>In its court filing, Raani claims Centeno &ldquo;assumed the risk of any injuries allegedly sustained as a result of his conduct&rdquo; and &ldquo;knew or reasonably should have known of the substances that were used in the activities conducted at the places where he worked.&rdquo;</p><p>As Centeno cleaned a 500-gallon tank from which the acid solution erupted, &ldquo;he knew or reasonably should have known of the possible risks of personal injury,&rdquo; the Raani filing adds. &ldquo;By voluntarily undertaking to work with such substances, [Centeno] elected to accept such possible risks.&rdquo;</p><p>The company&rsquo;s position amounts to &ldquo;pouring more acid on an open wound,&rdquo; Stephan D. Blandin, an attorney for Centeno&rsquo;s survivors, said.</p><p>&ldquo;The family has been trying to get over Carlos&rsquo;s loss for well over a year now,&rdquo; Blandin said. &ldquo;Here is somebody who is pleading to be taken to the emergency room and they&rsquo;re intentionally denying him care. And they&rsquo;re blaming him for it now. It&rsquo;s just reprehensible.&rdquo;</p><p>Raani&rsquo;s filing also denies the family&rsquo;s claim that Centeno&rsquo;s employer was Ron&rsquo;s Staffing Services Inc., a temporary-staffing firm based in Northbrook that assigned him to the factory. The family&rsquo;s claim, experts say, is crucial for expanding damages beyond workers&rsquo; compensation, a form of insurance that Illinois requires of employers.</p><p>&ldquo;Ron&rsquo;s Staffing is the employer,&rdquo; said Leone José Bicchieri, executive director of the Chicago Workers Collaborative, a group that advocates for temporary workers. &ldquo;It has the W-2s. It pays the worker. It is in charge of workers&rsquo; comp and all aspects of employment.&rdquo;</p><p>Client companies such as Raani&nbsp;are happy shifting employment responsibility to a staffing agency such as&nbsp;Ron&rsquo;s&nbsp;until a worker is injured,&nbsp;Bicchieri said. &ldquo;Now, suddenly, the client company says it is the direct employer. This is just a game of ping-pong.&rdquo;</p><p>H. Patrick Morris, Raani&rsquo;s attorney in the case, did not return WBEZ&rsquo;s calls for comment after filing the company&rsquo;s answer to the suit.</p><p>Jeffrey Kehl, a lawyer for Ron&rsquo;s Staffing, has declined to comment about the case.</p><p>Raani is also contesting the OSHA citations, six of which the agency classified as willful, indicating &ldquo;plain indifference&rdquo; toward employee safety and health. The agency says it has made no decision on whether it will refer the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution.</p><p>OSHA hadn&rsquo;t inspected the Raani factory for 18 years before the Centeno incident.&nbsp;The WBEZ and Center for Public Integrity investigation found that the federal government is not keeping close track of temporary-worker injuries.</p><p><em>The <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/">Center for Public Integrity</a>&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.publicintegrity.org/authors/jim-morris">Jim Morris</a> contributed reporting.</em><br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 07 Jan 2013 16:37:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/company-temporary-worker-blame-his-fatal-burns-104753