WBEZ | Town of Cicero http://www.wbez.org/tags/town-cicero 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.<br />&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Few African Americans 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.<br />&nbsp;</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 As Cicero president seeks third term, town employees wear two hats http://www.wbez.org/news/cicero-president-seeks-third-term-town-employees-wear-two-hats-105673 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F80310454&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Dominick%20courtesy%20of%20Civero%20Voters%20Alliance1.jpg" style="margin: 0px; float: left; height: 298px; width: 350px;" title="Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, what matters to some public servants is not their job duties but Larry Dominick’s reelection. (Photo courtesy of Cicero Voters Alliance)" />Once upon a time, it was hard to get a government job in the Chicago area without going through a precinct captain or another party boss. Over the years, federal court orders and corruption prosecutions have helped draw a sharper line between public service and politics. But the message hasn&rsquo;t gotten everywhere. With an election looming in Cicero, many employees of that western suburb are wearing two hats.</p><p>MITCHELL: Cicero officials this week called a press conference to warn about what they described as fraud that could swing the results of next Tuesday&rsquo;s election. It was a holiday, so Town Hall was closed. But the officials had keys. They opened up the building, invited the reporters into the council chambers, and took the podium.</p><p>HANANIA: Alright. My name is Ray Hanania. I&rsquo;m the town spokesman.&nbsp;.&nbsp;.&nbsp;.</p><p>MITCHELL: Hanania told the reporters they couldn&rsquo;t speak with Town President Larry Dominick, who&rsquo;s running for a third four-year term. He was speaking for Dominick. And he didn&rsquo;t try to distinguish Dominick the town official from Dominick the candidate.</p><p>HANANIA: We&rsquo;re here in part to respond to some of the false charges made by the other candidates and also to set our story straight.&nbsp;.&nbsp;.&nbsp;.</p><p>MITCHELL: Hanania called someone else to the podium.</p><p>HANANIA: Emo Cundari is the head of the Cicero Voters Alliance.&nbsp;.&nbsp;.&nbsp;.</p><p>MITCHELL: That&rsquo;s Dominick&rsquo;s political operation. After the press conference, Hanania told me Cundari had participated not as the campaign leader but as the town&rsquo;s property-tax assessor. It&rsquo;s the sort of double identity you see a lot in Cicero. Members of Dominick&rsquo;s organization hold jobs throughout the town&rsquo;s bureaucracy and have occupied seats on all sorts of commissions &mdash; even the Cicero Election Board. Until December, that board consisted of Dominick himself and two officials seeking reelection on his slate. Their conflict of interest &mdash; in ruling, for example, which candidates qualified for the ballot &mdash; was so obvious a Cook County judge replaced the entire board with members from outside Cicero. The politics also extend to the town&rsquo;s blue-collar ranks. Tony Loconte is a maintenance worker in a local school district governed by Dominick allies. I found Loconte and other town and district employees campaigning this week at Cicero&rsquo;s early-voting sites.</p><p>MITCHELL: You still working at Morton West High School?<br />LOCONTE: Yes, I am.<br />MITCHELL: Is this part of the job, handing out palm cards for Mr. Dominick?<br />LOCONTE: No, it&rsquo;s part of my precinct captain &mdash; doing it for my precinct.<br />MITCHELL: Are you on the clock right now for the town?<br />LOCONTE: No. I&rsquo;m not on the clock for the school either.<br />MITCHELL: Does your job have any connection to this campaigning work?<br />LOCONTE: None, whatsoever.<br />MITCHELL: You&rsquo;ve never felt any pressure to do this sort of campaigning for your job.<br />LOCONTE: Excuse me. You want to follow me to the bathroom too?<br />MITCHELL: We&rsquo;re not at the bathroom.</p><p>MITCHELL: Last weekend, a campaign trying to unseat Dominick videotaped uniformed town employees canvassing voters door-to-door. Our requests to speak with Dominick about the canvass were declined. Hanania, his spokesman, said the town was just investigating possible mail-in ballot fraud. And Hanania points out that Cicero&rsquo;s hardly the only place where public employees get involved in politics.</p><p>HANANIA: You&rsquo;re not seeing town employees at their offices or at their windows, saying, &lsquo;Thank you for paying [for] the vehicle sticker. Please vote for Larry Dominick.&rsquo; These people are entitled to do whatever they want on their own time and they have to request their vacation time to do it.</p><p>MORRISON: When there&rsquo;s such an overlap between the political apparatus and the town employees, it&rsquo;s too much to be coincidental.</p><p>MITCHELL: David Morrison heads a watchdog group called the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. He says the overlap hurts taxpayers.</p><p>MORRISON: They end up paying for employees that are doing political work as opposed to taxpayer work. They&rsquo;re told from the beginning, in essence, that, &lsquo;It doesn&rsquo;t matter what your job duties are. What matters is that your candidate wins.&rsquo; And, when that&rsquo;s the rule, they don&rsquo;t pay attention to what their job duties are, they don&rsquo;t worry about punching in on time. Because they understand that there&rsquo;s a secret system operating that means, as long as they deliver their precinct, they get paid.</p><p>MITCHELL: Morrison says that system will stay in place until Cicero voters get tired of it and find cleaner candidates to run.</p><p><em>Follow <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> on <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 21 Feb 2013 22:44:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cicero-president-seeks-third-term-town-employees-wear-two-hats-105673 Gutiérrez: Cicero officials trying to suppress Latino vote http://www.wbez.org/news/guti%C3%A9rrez-cicero-officials-trying-suppress-latino-vote-105591 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Gutierrez%20and%20Ochoa%209crop.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 234px; width: 250px;" title="U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez and Cicero candidate Juan Ochoa, right, on Monday call for investigations of alleged voter intimidation. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" /></p><div>A door-to-door canvass by town of Cicero employees over the weekend has U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-4th, and a candidate for the town president&rsquo;s post calling for probes of alleged voter suppression.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Gutiérrez and Juan Ochoa, who is trying to unseat Town President Larry Dominick, say Cicero community-service workers visited homes on Saturday and Sunday to harass and intimidate Latino voters who had requested mail-in ballots ahead of the western suburb&rsquo;s Feb. 26 primary.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The town employees, according to an Ochoa campaign statement, &ldquo;knowingly and falsely portrayed themselves as police officers or private investigators and interrogated and intimidated voters, telling them that voting by mail is illegal and that, if they submitted their mail-in ballots, they would be committing fraud and that their votes would not count.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>At a news conference Monday, the Ochoa campaign called on Cook County State&rsquo;s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Clerk David Orr and Sheriff Tom Dart to investigate the canvass.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;You need to come here to Cicero and protect the rights of [Latino voters],&rdquo; said Gutiérrez, who is backing Ochoa in the primary. &ldquo;Alvarez, come here. Protect the voters here against this infamy of corruption here in Cicero.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Ochoa, former chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, said the Dominick campaign had &ldquo;used public resources to intimidate and suppress the Latino vote.&rdquo;</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>About 87 percent of Cicero&rsquo;s 84,000 residents are Hispanic, according to the 2010 census.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Cicero officials insisted that the town employees were only looking into what they characterized as likely fraud in the absentee-voting process.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&ldquo;There were people applying for absentee ballots from lots that are empty lots, from boarded-up homes, from churches &mdash; asking for absentee ballots from places that they could not possibly live at,&rdquo; Thomas Bradley, an attorney for the town, said at a Monday afternoon news conference.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania said about 2,000 absentee ballots had been requested for the primary. That number, he said, was about five times more than in previous town elections.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>A Dart spokesman said the sheriff was aware of the Cicero situation and, as a result, planning to increase the number of sheriff&rsquo;s employees scheduled to help monitor next week&rsquo;s balloting.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>But the spokesman, Frank Bilecki, made no promises the sheriff&rsquo;s office would probe anything before Election Day. &ldquo;We would have powers to investigate but it has traditionally fallen under the purview of the state&rsquo;s attorney and Illinois attorney general,&rdquo; Bilecki said.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Orr, at a news conference Monday afternoon,&nbsp;said his office had notified the U.S. Justice Department and Alvarez&rsquo;s office about the allegations of both voter intimidation and fraud.&nbsp;Orr said Alvarez&rsquo;s office had begun investigating the allegations.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Alvarez&rsquo;s spokespersons on Monday&nbsp;did not respond to WBEZ requests for comment.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>The skirmish follows months of charges and countercharges by the campaigns. Dominick&rsquo;s team has alleged that Ochoa has used gang members as campaign workers. Ochoa&rsquo;s campaign has pointed to Dominick family members on the town payroll and to Cicero&rsquo;s history of mafia influence.</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>Dominick, a former Cicero police officer, is seeking a third four-year term.</p><p><em>Angelica Robinson contributed reporting. Follow <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> on <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></div><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 18 Feb 2013 14:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/guti%C3%A9rrez-cicero-officials-trying-suppress-latino-vote-105591 Cicero election board to rule on Dominick’s fate http://www.wbez.org/news/cicero-election-board-rule-dominick%E2%80%99s-fate-104948 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Dominick1crop.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 261px; width: 250px;" title="Cicero Town President Larry Dominick is running for a third four-year term and fighting a claim that his candidacy runs afoul of Illinois law. (Photo: Courtesy of Town of Cicero)" />A colorful political battle in a mostly Latino suburb just west of Chicago could hinge on a ruling expected Wednesday afternoon from the town&rsquo;s election board.</p><p>Cicero Town President Larry Dominick is running for a third four-year term and fighting a claim that he is ineligible for the post because of alleged arrears to the municipality.</p><p>The case&rsquo;s objectors include Juan Ochoa, Dominick&rsquo;s toughest rival in the Feb. 26 election. Ochoa, a former CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, is heading a slate of Cicero candidates running against Dominick allies.</p><p>Dominick, according to the objection, did not pay permit fees for building projects at his home, 3825 S. 59th Ct., and shared ownership in a plumbing business that failed to pay license fees.</p><p>James Nally, an attorney for the objectors, said the projects include garage work. &ldquo;He didn&rsquo;t apply for a permit to construct the garage but he applied for permits for other work on the property,&rdquo; Nally told WBEZ. &ldquo;So that&rsquo;s an acknowledgement that he knew that permits were necessary to do this work.&rdquo;</p><p>Dominick&rsquo;s own brother testified against him Sunday before the board, a three-member panel. Richard Dominick claimed to have worked for the company and claimed that Larry Dominick partly owned it and helped run it.</p><p>The company, according to a Chicago Sun-Times report, got $1.8 million in business from Cicero despite never bidding for a contract and never signing one.</p><p>Larry Dominick, a former Cicero police officer, says his ex-wife handled the renovation work and denies he has been a partner in the company.</p><p>Dominick&rsquo;s attorney, Richard Means, calls the president&rsquo;s brother &ldquo;a chronic liar&rdquo; and dismisses the claims about the building projects.</p><p>&ldquo;This is dredging up something in the very distant past,&rdquo; Means told WBEZ. &ldquo;In order to be unqualified because of being in arrears in a tax or other fee to the municipality, there has to be some kind of finding [such as] a ticket issued and then you didn&rsquo;t show up in court.&rdquo;</p><p>Ochoa suffered a blow on Sunday when the election board ruled that the &ldquo;only evidence that would be relevant&rdquo; would be a Dominick admission of the existence of a debt that &ldquo;he knows he should have paid&rdquo; or proof that Cicero had sought payment.</p><p>The ballot hearings followed a December intervention by a Cook County judge, who found that the board&rsquo;s three members all had potential conflicts of interest. Those members were Dominick himself and two of his allies, Town Supervisor Joseph Virruso and Town Clerk Maria Punzo-Arias.</p><p>The judge, Edmund Ponce de León, replaced the three with election experts from outside Cicero. Ponce de León also disqualified board alternate Dennis Raleigh, a town trustee.</p></p> Wed, 16 Jan 2013 16:54:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/cicero-election-board-rule-dominick%E2%80%99s-fate-104948