On July 17, undocumented immigrant workers from the Chicago area filed a lawsuit in Cook County for back payment of thousands of hours of wages and overtime pay.

United Airlines and Continental airplanes
Undocumented immigrants who
worked at O’Hare International
Airport are suing for back pay.

The workers had been arrested in a November 2007 regional raid involving Chicago police and hundreds of federal immigration agents. The large-scale operation arrested 23 immigrants who had worked for Ideal Staffing Solutions, Inc. The Bensenville, Ill., temporary employment agency staffed positions at O’Hare International Airport.

Workers were arrested at their homes and workplaces for unknowingly wearing false identification badges given to them by their employer. The workers were personally charged with federal crimes.

In addition to providing the bogus identification badges, Ideal Staffing Solutions exploited the workers by withholding wages, overtime pay and benefits. Major airlines and airport businesses enjoyed low rates for the temporary workers. Contracting companies included United Airlines, Alitalia, Singapore Airlines, Gate Gourmet, Inc., Air Menzies International, Inc., Swissport Cargo Services, Inc., J.D. Norman Industries, Inc. and APEX Plastic Finishing Company.

In the lawsuit, the workers allege that Ideal Staffing Solutions and the contracting airport businesses violated a number of Illinois and federal labor laws, including the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Act and the Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act.

Tim Bell, executive director of the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, explained: “Our investigation reveals that these companies brought these workers into the airport to save money on labor costs. … Ideal Staffing facilitated the exploitation while United Airlines and others maximized their profits.”

United Airlines’ parent company, UAL Corporation, reported $403 million in profit in 2007.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has worked hand-in-hand with other federal and local law enforcement to terrorize immigrant communities. Despite the defeat of proposed federal legislation that sought to criminalize undocumented workers, immigration agents and police have continued to charge undocumented workers with crimes simply for working.

On the other hand, corporations that reap billions in profits and deny their workers a living wage and benefits to which they are legally entitled are permitted to continue exploiting.

Corporations exploit both immigrant and U.S.-born labor for profit, but federal immigration and criminal laws create an underclass of immigrant labor that is super-exploited. Workers must build a strong, united multinational mass movement to struggle against corporate exploitation and to fight for their rights.