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Portillo’s workers stage walkout, claim unfair hours and pay

“All we want is to be treated decently, treated fairly and paid fairly,” a worker said a rally in River North Friday.

Workers for Portillo’s Food Group hold a walkout in front of the chain-restaurants flagship location in River North.
Workers for Portillo’s Food Group hold a walkout in front of the chain-restaurant’s flagship location in River North Friday.
Sam Heller/ Sun-Times

Workers at the Chicago-based Portillo’s chain restaurant have walked off this job this week in an effort to demand safer working conditions and fair wages.

After five days off the job, the employees on Friday held a press conference in front of Portillo’s flagship location in River North to call attention to their plight.

“All we want is to be treated decently, treated fairly and paid fairly,” 15-year employee Armando Huerta said. “Thanks to the company for the good years, but enough is enough.”

The 17 employees — who all work at Portillo’s Food Services in Addison, which prepares food for 47 Portillo’s locations throughout the Chicago area — said they skipped work after seeing a large increase in their hours with no overtime pay during the pandemic.

Employee Paty Cordova said Portillo’s has refused to bring in new employees to take the shifts of sick workers, resulting in each worker doing the work of two or three people.

Usually, Cordova works four days a week, but she was forced to work six during the pandemic, she said.

The workers, who are all Hispanic, asked to meet with management as a group but were refused the opportunity at every level, Cordova said. The workers are not unionized. Since they began the walkout, the company has sent letters to the workers and threatened to fire them if they did not return, the group said.

In a statement, Portillo’s said it has faced challenges with hiring new staff but said they are increasing starting wages and have boosted wages for existing workers.

“We are disappointed that a small group of our team members have chosen to participate in a rally instead of coming in for their scheduled shifts,” the statement said. “The Portillo’s leadership team is committed to hearing from each of our team members individually and will continue to do so.”

The request to meet one-on-one with workers is an intimidation tactic, Cordova said at the rally.

The event, which was organized with the help of Arise Chicago, a faith-based nonprofit that fights for workers’ rights, ended with remarks from Rev. Robert Jones and two other pastors leading a prayer circle.

“I stand today with all of these wonderful human beings as a faith leader to say that it is just plain wrong to treat human beings like they are machines,” said Jones, of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church on the South Side. “We call on ownership to do the right thing and take care of your employees. Enough is enough.”

The workers said they will continue their walkout for as long as it takes management to agree to meet with them collectively.

“We don’t care anymore about the consequences. We are in this fight together and will keep fighting until the end,” Cordova said.

Rev. Robert Jones speaks at a press conference demanding fairer wages and better working conditions for employees at Portillo’s.
Sam Heller/ Sun-Times