Staffing Firms, Buffets Accused of Labor Abuses


     CHICAGO (CN) – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan accused three Chicago employment agencies and two Chinese buffet restaurants of violating human rights and wage laws by discriminating against vulnerable, immigrant Latino workers.
     A federal lawsuit, filed Thursday on behalf of the State of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Labor, claims the companies profited by targeting “desperately poor Latino workers” and putting them in restaurant jobs, where they were paid as little as $3.50 an hour for 14-hour days and required to live in “overcrowded, squalid” housing.
     The staffing agencies – Xing Ying Employment Agency, Jiao’s Employment Agency and Chinatown Agencia de Empleo – advertise that they can supply “sincere,” “honest” and “competent Mexicans” to restaurants looking to fill low-paid kitchen positions, according to the lawsuit.
     They offer jobs that include free food and housing, which attracts the workers, who “typically have no permanent residence, and move frequently from job to job and city to city, wherever they can find work,” the complaint states.
     The lawsuit claims that the agencies charge workers $10 a night to stay at their offices while waiting for jobs, where they often sleep on the floor. They also charge up to $220 for job referrals, making the workers indebted to them, all the while knowing employees are headed to low-paying, poor working conditions, Madigan says.
     According to the complaint, the restaurants – Hibachi Grill Buffet and Hibachi Sushi Buffet – exploit and degrade the workers, calling them “retarded” and saying they hoped the workers “would die.” The restaurants also allegedly deny workers sufficient breaks and force them to work through on-the-job injuries.
     In addition, Hibachi Grill Buffet makes Latino workers live in crowded, dirty housing, putting “as many as fifteen employees into a three-bedroom apartment with just one bathroom, and no furniture aside from soiled mattresses, which employees had resorted to finding themselves from a nearby garbage dumpster,” the lawsuit states.
     Madigan sued the agencies, restaurants and their owners for alleged race and national origin discrimination in employment, discrimination in advertising, and labor law violations.
     She seeks lost wages for allegedly victimized employees, monetary penalties, punitive damages and injunctive relief.
     Representatives from Jiao’s and Hibachi Grill Buffet declined to comment on the lawsuit. Xing Ying and Chintatown Agencia could not be reached for a response. Hibachi Sushi Buffet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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