In the past month, immigrant union workers at a Chicago-area meatpacking plant have been subjected to fear and arrests, and will be subjected to, in the words of Congressman Luis Gutierrez, “needless and harmful collateral damage to…families and children.”
For decades, UNITE HERE Local 1 has represented workers at Ruprecht Company, based in Mundelein, IL. Local 1’s collective bargaining agreement expired in August 2013, resulting in an ongoing labor dispute since then.
In January 2015, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sent a subpoena for I-9 forms and notice of inspection to Ruprecht. Several months later, based on the ICE inspection, Ruprecht disregarded its bargaining obligation to Local 1 in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, prolonging the labor dispute.
Local 1 believes that ICE has no legitimate business at Ruprecht, due to the Revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) which states: “ICE agrees to refrain from engaging in civil worksite enforcement activities at a worksite that is the subject of an existing DOL investigation of a labor dispute.”
The dispute between Ruprecht and Local 1 over the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement and Ruprecht’s use of temporary workers since the audit, falls under this memorandum.
In early June 2015, Local 1 requested copies of Ruprecht’s communications with ICE regarding the I-9 audit. The company responded by falsely stating it had no documents responsive to the request.
On June 26th, Local 1 members at Ruprecht engaged in an unplanned work stoppage to demand they be given information about the ICE audit. The same day, the union filed two unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB against Ruprecht for violating its duty to bargain.
In early July, ICE detained and arrested eight Ruprecht employees at their homes, including three members of UNITE HERE.
At a July 16th bargaining session, Ruprecht withdrew a tentative agreement on medical benefits and made a proposal to stop providing benefits through Local 1’s Taft-Hartley fund. At the same bargaining session, the company announced that it would be terminating 109 employees, including UNITE HERE members, between July 24th and August 7th.
Actions & Outreach:
Since the June 26th work stoppage, Father Clete Kiley, UNITE HERE Director for Immigration and a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Maria Elena Durazo, UNITE HERE General Vice President of Immigration, Civil Rights and Diversity, have been conducting regular outreach to national political, labor and faith allies. Illinois faith leaders held a prayer service and blessing for Ruprecht workers outside of the Mundelein plant on July 3rd.
In mid-July, Congressman Luis Gutierrez organized a listening session for workers and their families, followed by a prayer service at St. Peter’s Church in Chicago’s Loop. The following day, Congressman Gutierrez sent a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson which read in part, “In addition to throwing families into crisis, the investigation may also result in undermining union activity and labor protections and rights in the workplace.” The letter requested that DHS end the I-9 investigation at Ruprecht.
UNITE HERE President D. Taylor has also sent a letter to Secretary Johnson requesting ICE suspend the audit while the NLRB investigates unfair labor practice charges at Ruprecht, and meet with UNITE HERE and immigrant advocates.
Next steps & demands:
UNITE HERE has requested an in-person meeting with Secretary Johnson and Secretary Perez to discuss requests to:
• Rescind the Ruprecht audit and advise the company that it is not required to take any action on the basis of the previous notice;
• Provide affirmative relief to the affected employees; and
• Clarify how the administration intends to prevent ICE from interfering in the enforcement of labor law.
ORGANIZATIONS: Please sign on to UNITE HERE’s national letter to Secretaries Johnson and Perez, signed by labor, faith, and immigrant leaders from across the country.
We also encourage individuals and organizations to share any similar experiences and lessons learned that may be helpful in our efforts to protect the livelihoods of the union workers at Ruprecht Company.
Ruprecht in the news:
“Liberan trabajadores detenidos por ICE,” Telemundo (Video): http://www.telemundochicago.com/noticias/Liberan-trabajadores-detenidos-por-ICE-314736991.html
“¿Inspecciones de ICE en el trabajo? Resultado de una auditoría en la empresaRuprecht Company, varias personas han sido detenidas por ICE en Chicago,” Univision (Video): http://video.univision.mobi/videos/video/2015-07-13/detenidos-ice-chicago-resultado-empresa-auditoria?id=618393
“More Than A Dozen Children Plead For Immigration Officials To Release Their Fathers,” 7/12, CBS Local News: http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2015/07/12/more-than-a-dozen-children-plead-for-immigration-officials-to-release-their-fathers/
“ICE arresta a varios trabajadores latinos,” Univision (Video): http://chicago.univision.com/videos/video/2015-07-10/ice-arresta-trabajadores-latinos-ruprecht-company
“Faced With I-9 Immigration Raid During Negotiations, Chicago Meatpacking Workers Walked Off the Job,” 7/9, Yana Kunichoff, In These Times: http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/18176/confronted_with_an_immigration_raid_during_negotiations_meatpacking_workers
“Update: Immigration audit prompts strike at Ruprecht,” 6/29, Erica Shaffer, Meat + Poultry: http://www.meatpoultry.com/articles/news_home/Business/2015/06/Audit_prompts_strike_at_Ruprec.aspx?ID=%7B1DC2B479-F2DB-43FF-B068-C92A079A4E19%7D&cck=1
“Empleados latinos protestan contra auditoría de inmigración,” 6/27, EFE/Univision: http://chicago.univision.com/noticias/chicago/article/2015-06-27/empleados-latinos-ruprecht-huelga-auditorias-ice
“100 workers strike at Mundelein meatpacking firm,” 6/26, Micah Maidenberg, Crain’s Chicago Business: http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20150626/NEWS05/150629805/100-workers-strike-at-mundelein-meatpacking-firm