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El Milagro employees call for fair wages, end to harsh working conditions during walkout in Little Village

At least 85 El Milagro workers contracted COVID-19 last year, a spokesperson for the workers said Thursday. Five of them died.

A group of El Milagro workers picket in front of the El Milagro headquarters at 3050 W. 26th St. in Little Village on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Workers walked off the job at both the Little Village and Pilsen production facilities over allegations of poor working conditions.
A group of El Milagro workers picket in front of the El Milagro headquarters at 3050 W. 26th St. in Little Village on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Workers walked off the job at both the Little Village and Pilsen production facilities over allegations of poor working conditions.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

El Milagro employees walked off the job Thursday to picket outside one of the company’s tortilla production facilities in Little Village and call for fair wages and better working conditions.

Dozens of workers formed a picket line in front of the El Milagro Tortilleria and the company’s adjacent taqueria, 3050 W. 26th St., chanting in unison as passing vehicles blared their horns in support.

“Justicia, si! Abuso, no!” the workers cheered in Spanish, calling for justice and an end to the abuse they’ve allegedly endured.

As El Milagro continues to struggle to keep store shelves stocked with its popular tortilla products, an organizer scoffed at the shortage becoming a social media phenomenon as the company’s workers continue to struggle.

Laura Garza, of the nonprofit workers rights group Arise Chicago, explained that El Milagro employees have been “working under harsh conditions for years” — conditions that she said have only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic.

She said the company ignored guidelines put forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and at least 85 workers contracted COVID-19 last year. Five of them ultimately died, she added, blaming the “negligence” of the company’s leadership.

“Clearly they cared more about their profits than they cared about people,” said Garza.

A group of El Milagro workers strike in front of the El Milagro Headquarters at 3050 W. 26th St. in the Little Village neighborhood, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2021. Workers walked off the job at both the Little Village and Pilsen production facilities over alleged poor working conditions.
A group of El Milagro workers strike in front of the El Milagro Headquarters at 3050 W. 26th St. in the Little Village neighborhood, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2021. Workers walked off the job at both the Little Village and Pilsen production facilities over alleged poor working conditions.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A series of workers then stepped to the podium and rattled off a list of serious allegations, with Garza reiterating their statements in English.

Alma Sanchez reported that she and another woman had reported workplace sexual harassment on numerous occasions, Garza said. But instead of addressing their concerns, Garza alleged the company is “blaming the victims.”

Workers also claimed that El Milagro was violating Chicago’s earned sick time ordinance, and that some employees have been forced to work seven days straight, among other allegations.

While the workers haven’t unionized, they’re already organizing as the El Milagro Tortillas Workers Committee, with the help of Arise. Following the news conference, they delivered a letter to the company’s leaders demanding a meeting to discuss their varied demands.

They include a wage scale built according to seniority; an end to “harassment practices” from management and human resources personnel; and the immediate hiring of more workers to reduce the current workload to its “normal pace.”

The workers urged the company to respond by Sept. 29.

El Milagro didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions about the demonstration and its workers demands.