Labor News –

In August 2015 we wrote about a job action by 100 migrant workers at the Ruprecht Company, a privately held meat processing and food manufacturer located in Mundelein, IL.  The job action, which included a walk-out took place because the company participated in an I-9 work audit without informing the workers’ union, Unite Here, in a timely manner. About half the bargaining unit lost their jobs.

Fast-forward to 2017 – NFPC, which houses the Priest-Labor Initiative, received a letter signed by Maria Elena Durazo, General Vice President and Fr. Clete Kiley, Director of Immigration Policy for Unite Here. The letter, which arrived on July 31, states:

Dear Friends of UNITE HERE:

We are writing to thank you for your support of the UNITE HERE members at the Ruprecht Company in Mundelein, Illinois, and to let you know that we have finally won a collective bargaining agreement!

Two years ago at this time over 100 immigrant workers walked off their jobs at the Ruprecht Company when rumors swirled that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement had initiated an I-9 audit of Ruprecht’s work force. The company participated in the audit without informing the union. The company was in protracted collective bargaining agreement renewal negotiations with the union at the time.   The ICE audit caused Ruprecht to abandon its bargaining obligation and prolonged those negotiations.  At that time approximately 100 workers were affected by that I.C.E. audit. Approximately half of that bargaining unit lost their employment. Two workers were detained by I.C.E. in front of their families. Some of the workers withdrew quietly.

With your help, we protested this situation. Led by Bishop John Manz, and ARISE Chicago chairman, Fr. Larry Dowling, we prayed with the workers at the Ruprecht site. With support from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, we gathered at the I.C.E. office in downtown Chicago, and held community meetings with Congressman Luis Gutierrez at St. Peter’s Church. Sta. Maria del Popolo Parish in Mundelein and members of its Pastoral Migratoria team provided meeting spaces for the workers committee, and subsequently for an investigator from the National Labor Relations Board’s regional office who came to investigate the situation. This community support meant so much to the Ruprecht workers.

Since that time, the company and the union members continued through difficult negotiations. The workers recently ratified a second, new collective bargaining agreement since the audit. The workers have prevailed and are able to retain their union.  Senior workers will retain their union health plan while newer workers will be covered by the company’s health plan.  All employees will receive wage increases each year.

One of the better features of the collective bargaining agreement are immigrant friendly provisions. These provisions outline specific steps and protections for immigrant workers in the case of no match letters or I-9 audits, for the use of their native language without discrimination or punishment, and for suitable time to address no match issues without losing one’s work seniority, and other provisions.

Once again, thanks for your support and encouragement of these workers. Your solidarity has meant all the difference! We can achieve so much when we are united.

Sincerely,

Maria Elena Durazo, General Vice President, UNITE HERE

Fr. Clete Kiley, Director of Immigration Policy, UNITE HERE

For background information on the job action (NFPC This Week, #624), click here.