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Group cites more worker complaints against El Milagro

Employees of the tortilla manufacturer have alleged it violates federal labor law. Now a support group says the employees have filed additional complaints with state and city agencies.

El Milagro workers strike in front of a company location at 3050 W. 26th St. on Sept. 24.
El Milagro workers strike in front of a company location at 3050 W. 26th St. on Sept. 24.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file photo

Employees of tortilla company El Milagro who protested alleged labor violations last month by walking off the job have filed complaints about the company with state and city labor agencies, a workers’ rights group said Tuesday.

Arise Chicago said the workers have filed complaints with the city’s Office of Labor Standards and the Illinois Department of Labor. The workers, who have attracted support from several politicians, have alleged abusive conditions and sexual harassment at El Milagro, which has locations in Pilsen and Little Village.

The complaint filed with the city last month alleges the company ignores ordinances dealing with paid sick leave and workplace schedules, Arise Chicago said. It said the filing with the state was made in mid-October and accuses the company of violating a law that mandates at least one day off per week.

Last month, the workers also filed a complaint with a federal agency, the National Labor Relations Board.

A spokesman for the state’s Labor Department said an investigation of El Milagro is underway and had no further comment. A city representative could not be reached.

A man who answered the phone at El Milagro said no one was available to address the allegations.

Workers have told Arise Chicago, a nonprofit group supporting workers’ rights, that they must show a doctor’s note or pharmacy receipt when they take a paid sick day. The company then decides if they can return to work, a practice employees contend amounts to punishment for taking time off.

Workers also said some of them have been suspended for up to a week for taking sick time.

Rev. C.J. Hawking, executive director at Arise Chicago, said the company’s practices “are akin to sweatshop-level working conditions the U.S. outlawed a century ago.”

Last month, the nonunion employees called attention to their complaints by walking off the job, then found themselves locked out, unable to get their belongings, until police arrived.

Workers say that to address a national tortilla shortage, the company has ramped up production to dangerous speeds, causing injuries.

Contributing: Tom Schuba