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December 29, 2005
Posted online January 7, 2005

New Illinois labor laws protect workers and wages


J. Howard Miller poster created for Westinghouse CHICAGO – Thousands of workers across Illinois will be better protected against abuses by unlawful day labor agencies, will enjoy improved working conditions and will be protected in their rights to fair wages, thanks to two new labor laws signed by Governor Rod R. Blagojevich last summer and that go into effect January 1, 2006. The strengthened Day and Temporary Labor Services Act will make Illinois the most aggressive state in the nation regarding protecting day laborers against illegal wage deductions and other abuses, and imposing stiffer penalties against violators. The amended Prevailing Wage Act increases penalties against contractors who repeatedly fail to pay construction workers the prevailing wage.

"For thousands of day laborers in Illinois, better protections and better working conditions mean being able to bring home their hard-earned money and provide for their families. By strengthening the Day Labor Services Act we will be able to go after abusive agencies who cheat day laborers of their wages or leave them unprotected on the job," said Gov. Blagojevich. "Starting January 1, we are also ensuring that workers are paid no less than the prevailing wage on public works, leveling the playing field for honest, law-abiding contractors who follow the rules," said the Governor.

The amended Day and Temporary Labor Services Act, sponsored by State Rep. Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago) and State Sen. Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago) will protect over 300,000 day laborers across the state by providing the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) with stronger enforcement tools, imposing stiffer penalties on violators, and implementing important protections for vulnerable day and temporary laborers.

Highlights of the new changes in the Day and Temporary Labor Services Act include:

• Requiring agencies to provide workers with detailed employment and wage notices, which can be inspected by the IDOL;

• Protecting day laborers' paychecks from unreasonable deductions for meals and equipment;

• Requiring agencies to pay workers for lost time when they are sent to a job, only to be sent back because the agency sent too many workers;

• Requiring employers that contract with day or temporary labor agencies to verify that they are registered with IDOL or face monetary penalties;

• Requiring agencies to provide proof of workers' compensation and unemployment insurance

• Prohibiting agencies from charging workers fees for transportation between the agency and the job site and requiring that such transportation meet basic safety standards; and

• Prohibiting agencies from retaliating or discriminating against a worker who exercises his or her rights under the Act and giving workers the right to sue for damages when harmed by violations.

The new law will also allow IDOL to impose a $500 penalty against a day labor agency for each day it is not registered. For all other violations, the department may fine first-time violators up to $6,000 and repeat violators up to $2,500 per violation per day. To pay for increased enforcement of the day and temporary labor industry, the legislation increases agency registration fees to $1,000 and adds a fee of $250 per branch office.

"We applaud Governor Blagojevich's determination to improve the lives of native born and immigrant workers throughout the state. This law will help so many people of faith, so many denominations to receive just treatment as they work had to build better lives for themselves," said Jose Oliva, coordinator of the Interfaith Workers' Centers Network.

"Illinois is now the most aggressive state in the nation to end abuses leveled against day laborers by unscrupulous employers. Governor Blagojevich's support of working families has helped the state protect its most vulnerable workers," said Tim Bell, executive director of the Chicago Workers' Collaborative.

The Prevailing Wage amendment, sponsored by State Rep. Larry McKeon (D-Chicago) and State Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) ensures a fair wage for all of the state's construction workers and allows for IDOL to impose stiffer penalties against contractors who violate the law.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan initiated legislation that strengthens the Prevailing Wage Act, stating that penalties under the current law were not severe enough to deter contractors from repeatedly violating the law. The amended Act is designed to prevent non-compliance by increasing fines against repeat violators, extending the debarment period -- during which a contractor is ineligible for a public works contract -- and imposing a monetary penalty against employers who retaliate against employees for filing prevailing wage complaints.

Penalties for violations of the prevailing wage law include:

• Increasing penalties for second or subsequent violations from 20% to 50% of underpaid wages. It also requires repeat violators to pay a worker 5% of this penalty, up from 2%, for each month that the amount remains unpaid.

• Increasing debarment to four years for contractors with two or more serious violations within a five-year period.

• Imposing fines on employers who retaliate against workers for reporting a violation in the amount of $5,000 in addition to existing remedies, such as reinstatement and compensation for lost wages.

According to IDOL, the Department has received on average 1,200 prevailing wage complaints per year over the last three years.

"The Illinois Department of Labor is ready to enforce laws that have more teeth to help us to protect hard-working men and women in Illinois from being underpaid. These laws will also keep illegal temporary agencies who undercut legitimate businesses in check," said Art Ludwig, Director of the Illinois Department of Labor.

"The Prevailing Wage law guarantees that the state's construction workers will receive a fair wage. It enables the Illinois Department of Labor and the Attorney General's Office to enforce the existing prevailing wage law more effectively and strengthens the penalties against those contractors who fail to follow the law. Contractors who treat employees fairly will not be at a disadvantage but will now be at an advantage," said Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO. As protecting workers' rights is one of the Governor's top priorities, he has through executive or legislative action:

• Signed legislation that broadens picketing rights for labor unions and other workers involved in labor disputes with their employers, allowing workers to picket, post temporary signs, park vehicles and set up tents or other temporary shelter areas for the picketers on public rights of way.

• Signed legislation that dramatically changes the workers' compensation system to increase benefits for workers, reduce costs for businesses, and fight fraud. After the Governor made workers' compensation reform a top priority in his 2005 State of the State address, he convened negotiations over several months with business and labor leaders and members of the General Assembly that resulted in the first major overhaul of Illinois' workers' compensation system in nearly 20 years.

• Expanded health care benefits to working families. Almost 400,000 men, women and children have received health care in Illinois – at a time when most states are not providing increased coverage for the working poor and are taking people off of Medicaid or significantly reducing their benefits.

• Signed All Kids, legislation that would make comprehensive health insurance available to nearly 250,000 children in Illinois who do not have health insurance. The new law will cover more than half of children who come from working and middle class families that earn too much to qualify for state programs like KidCare, but not enough to afford private health insurance.

• Raised the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour, benefiting an estimated 450,000 Illinois workers. The raise made Illinois one of a few states in the nation to increase the minimum wage above the federal level of $5.15 an hour, which hasn't changed since 1997.

• Signed legislation protecting hundreds of thousands of workers from being stripped of their right to overtime pay by new federal regulations.

• Signed legislation to protect workers from employer indoctrination and confinement, making Illinois only the third state in the nation to enact card check recognition of public employees. The law provides that if 50 percent or more of workers sign union authorization cards, union recognition is automatic.

• Signed legislation to help ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work. Under Illinois' Equal Pay Act, if a man and a woman do the same job, they must be paid the same.

• Signed legislation to protect U.S. jobs by requiring companies bidding for state business to certify whether the terms of the contract will be performed in the United States, and encouraging state agencies to buy products that are manufactured in the United States.

• Expanded rights of Illinois workers to join a union. This directly benefited 50,000 home childcare workers, 20,000 personal care assistants and thousands of graduate students and court reporters.

• Signed legislation to improve the structure and funding of the Unemployment Trust Fund.

• Signed legislation that requires every contractor providing equipment, materials or supplies to the State of Illinois to specify that no foreign-made equipment, materials or supplies be produced by children under the age of 12. Provides for penalties for a contractor who knowingly furnishes goods to the state produced by foreign child labor.

© 2005 The Cairo Gate