Illinois lawmakers push to pass 'Workers Without Fear Act'
CHICAGO - There was a renewed push on Monday to get Illinois legislators to pass protections for workers to stop employers from retaliating against people who speak out.
Illinois leaders are calling for the passage of the "Workers Without Fear Act".
The legislation looks to close legal gaps and protect whistleblowers who call out workplace violations.
The bill creates deterrents against retaliation by employers, including limiting employers from using a workers' immigration status as a form of intimidation.
"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.
Those who support the measure believe it’s especially important to protect low-paid and immigrant workers who they say are often the most vulnerable to this type of intimidation.
"Fear of retaliation is the single greatest factor to discourage victims of labor abuses from seeking justice," Raoul said.
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The measure would also expand protections for workers who report sexual harassment or file complaints outside official channels.
Retaliation is one of the most critical, incessant challenges to effective enforcement of state employment laws.
The bill would also give the attorney general's office power to investigate and fine employers who threaten to check someone's citizenship status.
It’s modeled after worker protection measures in several other states.
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 first-hand 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."
Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.