Chicago Sun-Times

Whistleblo­wer bill would protect workers from threats to check immigratio­n status


A new bill could give Illinois one of the nation’s strongest protection­s for whistleblo­wers against retaliatio­n from employers threatenin­g to investigat­e their immigratio­n status.

The Work Without Fear Act, pending in the statehouse, would also expand protection­s for workers who report sexual harassment or file complaints outside of official channels.

“For immigrants, threats of deportatio­n or repealing immigratio­n status can influence a worker’s willingnes­s to voice concerns about their workplace,” Attorney General Kwame Raoul told reporters Monday.

The bill will give the attorney general’s office the power to investigat­e and fine employers that threaten to check someone’s citizenshi­p status or ask an employee to produce immigratio­n documents.

Employers sometimes intimidate workers with threats to silence reports of labor violations such as wage theft, discrimina­tion and unsafe working conditions, authors of the bill said Monday. Low-paid and immigrant workers are particular­ly vulnerable to abuse.

“Fear of retaliatio­n is the single greatest factor to discourage victims of labor abuses from seeking justice,” Raoul said.

Raoul’s office wrote the bill with community organizers from the Chicago-based Raise the Floor Alliance. The bill is modeled after whistleblo­wer protection­s already in place in California, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington.

If the bill becomes law, it would be “among the strongest” labor protection­s in the nation, said Kevin Herrera, legal director at Raise the Floor Alliance.

Newly elected state Rep. Lilian Jiménez, a Chicago Democrat, said she is sponsoring the bill to fill a gap in worker protection­s she saw firsthand while organizing laundry workers in West Town years ago.

An undocument­ed worker had told her an employer was withholdin­g wages and sexually harassing her, Jiménez said.

“I told her the things she could do,” Jiménez said. “But I couldn’t tell her whether she’d be protected, that she wouldn’t be retaliated against.”

Isabel Escobar is a domestic worker whose employer illegally withheld $10,000 in wages and threatened to call immigratio­n authoritie­s if she filed a complaint with the state.

Escobar, who now works with the community group ARISE Chicago, said it took her three years to recover her money.

“Many other domestic workers suffer ... wage theft,” Escobar said through a translator. “We need to have protection while we fight against these employers.”

 ?? DAVID STRUETT/SUN-TIMES ?? Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul promotes the Work Without Fear Act on Monday.
DAVID STRUETT/SUN-TIMES Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul promotes the Work Without Fear Act on Monday.

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