Worker walkouts amid calls for improved conditions continue at the El Milagro tortilla plant in Little Village.
Workers, community members and labor organization Arise Chicago organized a Sept. 30 rally at the company’s 26th Street headquarters to speak out about a lack of COVID protections, unfair wages and sexual harassment at the company’s Chicago plants. Workers also say the company is ramping up intimidation.
Jorge Mújica, a strategic organizer for the community labor advocate organization Arise Chicago, says that workers also report that the company is ramping up threats of replacing workers who protest.
“The company attached a letter to their checks or pay stubs clearly threatening them that they shouldn’t keep organizing, that if they go out on strike, they are going to be permanently replaced and that of course they have the right, but there would be consequences if they keep organizing,” Mújica said. “The letter talks about strikes ... the workers are not talking about the strikes. And nevertheless, the company comes back saying if you strike, there would be consequences.”
El Milagro management did not respond to WTTW News’ invitation to appear on “Latino Voices” or to reply with a statement.
In response to allegations that Arise Chicago is instigating the demonstrations, not the workers, Mújica says they are only taking these actions in response to the workers’ requests for help.
“We don’t go looking for any workers. They come to Arise Chicago when they feel enough is enough. We get a phone call, we get a message in Facebook, we get a text message and then we start working with them and we start educating them on their rights. If they decide to go on a public movement, then we support that movement. That’s our job,” he said.
Mújica says that the rallies and demonstrations are intended to put public pressure on the company to respond. He also points out that though calls for negotiations with management have been going on for some time, the workers have not called for a boycott — but that cannot stop the general public from boycotting on their own.
“They say we produce the tortillas. We don’t want to boycott our own product. But response in the community for what I have seen is, let’s boycott El Milagro ... So I think the company is going to feel the pressure. Everything I see in Facebook and Twitter and whatnot, even Tiktok, is support for the workers.”
On Oct. 1, Arise Chicago filed a complaint against El Milagro with the National Labor Relations Board, claiming the company is obstructing justice.
“El Milagro is trying to instill fear in the workers so they stop organizing, but organizing is a legal process protected by the law,” Mújica said. “Every worker in the United States has the right to organize and the employer should not by any means trying to put obstacles on that organizing effort, whether it’s a labor union or whether it’s just a group of workers, they have the right, the protected right to organize and the company should not put any obstacles to it.”
El Milagro’s workers have also not called for a strike, and Mújica says that decision lies in the workers’ hands alone.
“The basic demand is sit down and talk to us about working conditions. Talk to us about the measures against sexual harassment. Talk to us about uniforms. There are 17 demands that workers have made a list of and exposed to us and they want to talk about those 17 issues,” Mújica said. “This is not only about wages. Yes, wages is a component of it, but it’s not the whole thing.”