El Milagro workers praise settlement of labor charges

The tortilla manufacturer will post notices affirming workers’ rights to organize as part of an agreement to end a dispute before the National Labor Relations Board.

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El Milagro employee Pedro Manzanares speaks at a news conference July 20, 2023, outside one of the company’s location at 3050 W. 26th St.

El Milagro employee Pedro Manzanares speaks at a news conference July 20, 2023, outside one of the company’s location at 3050 W. 26th St.

Arise Chicago

Employees at tortilla manufacturer El Milagro celebrated a legal settlement Thursday that they said protects them from harassment and retaliation for complaining about working conditions.

The agreement settles a complaint against the company filed by the National Labor Relations Board in March. The NLRB had cited evidence that workers were threatened with dismissal, plant closures and loss of vacation and other benefits if the organizing continued.

The company agreed that it will not interfere with or penalize workers organizing for better pay or treatment, according to the settlement released Thursday by the NLRB.

El Milagro will post notices at work sites affirming the right to form a union. The notices also will be read to all shifts. The workers are not union members and have not submitted signed cards seeking union affiliation.

Employees said the settlement shows the value of their two-year-old campaign with the advocacy group Arise Chicago that has produced notable improvements that include higher wages and the end of an illegal seven-day workweek. They also said the company now pays for tools instead of requiring staff to buy their own.

El Milagro has about 450 workers at sites in Little Village, Brighton Park and the Lower West Side.

Citing reports filed with the Labor Department, the workers noted that El Milagro has spent nearly $1.8 million over two years to thwart organizing.

“It is sad to see how the company responded to our efforts by looking to discourage us, by looking to silence us, by spending a staggering amount of money, almost $1.8 million, in shutting us down,” employee Pedro Manzanares said at a news conference outside an El Milagro plant at 3050 W. 26th St. Manzanares spoke in Spanish and an Arise Chicago worker translated.

“I can’t help but think how things would look at El Milagro if they had invested that money in the workforce.”

The company issued this statement: “El Milagro has always complied with the law and will continue to do so. Our company has an open door policy to address any employee concerns and we act accordingly. This policy reflects our values and commitment to continuous improvement in the workplace.”

El Milagro has previously blamed Arise Chicago for the worker activism, calling the group “outside agitators.” It has said recent improvements in pay and working conditions stem from its own worker outreach and not from outside pressure.

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