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Legislation Targets Day-Labor Discrimination

day laborer protest
Carlos Fernandez

An Illinois lawmakers wants to find out whether day labor and temp agencies are discriminating against certain workers. Legislation would require the companies to take daily attendance — including collecting racial information. The data would be used to track which workers get placed and which are turned away.

“There’s some concerns in the past that certain individuals were not being sent out to work, and we had no way to track whose coming in, who’s making the request,” says Sen. James Clayborne Jr.

Several day laborers accompanied the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative to a recent Statehouse hearing.

Shawn Matthews says he’s trying to rebuild his life after spending time in prison. The 44-year-old says he has shown up before dawn at Joliet-area employment agencies only to see other men — of different races and backgrounds — selected for job placement.

He hopes the legislation can help men like him “get a second chance, so we can work.”

Chicagoan Solomon Johnson, 28, says despite consistently being among the first to arrive for first-come, first-served job placement, he still doesn’t get picked. He says he wants to file a complaint with the Illinois Human Rights Commission, but finds it hard to prove he‘s shown up to the temp agency seeking a job.

The bill would “make it more equal for people to try to get a job,” he says. “It very much is” a racial issue. Clayborne, a Democrat from Belleville, says the information collected when workers show up to be placed could be retained, in case workers or agencies like the Human Rights Commission should need them. The commission addresses specific instances of racial, ethnic, gender and other discrimination under the state’s Human Rights Act.

Several Republicans are pushing back, including Sen. Kyle McCarter, from Lebanon, who questions the need for the legislation. He says workers who feel wronged can already file a complaint with Human Rights Commission. McCarter was also incredulous that temporary employment agencies aren’t already collecting this sort of information.

But Clayborne says they are not: “They don’t track who comes in. They track who goes out.”

The legislation is Senate Bill 47. The Senate Labor Committee approved it on a vote of 11-4, and the measure is now pending before the full Senate.

Rhonda Gillespie is in the Public Affairs Reporting graduate program at University of Illinois Springfield and covers state government and politics for Illinois Issues magazine. She was previously managing editor of the Chicago Defender newspaper and a reporter for other Chicago and national news, university and trade outlets. She can be reached at (217) 206-6524.
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