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Just Pay for All Coalition: Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award

For developing a successful grassroots campaign for fairness and advancing a movement for justice, the Just Pay for All Coalition is the 2014 winner of the first Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award.

The Just Pay for All Coalition was created in 2009 to take on the growing epidemic of “wage theft”—the failure to pay workers their earned wages, or paying substantially reduced wages. This vast problem targets low-skill, language-challenged and other vulnerable workers and ultimately costs them $7.3 million in wages each week, as estimated by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Wage theft perpetuates poverty by interrupting the economic stability of families and neighborhoods. To fight back, several organizations formed the Just Pay for All Coalition, including Latino Union, the Chicago Workers Collaborative, Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, Immigrant Workers Project, and Working Hands Legal Clinic.

Under the unified banner, Just Pay for All organized to amend the Illinois Wage Payment and Collections Act (IWPCA). With its collective decades of organizing experience, the group knew that policy change could only occur as a product of dedicated and multi-faceted outreach. They undertook community-based, culturally relevant education and outreach activities, hosting trainings and partnering with like-minded organizations.

As a result of the organizing efforts, in 2010 the State Legislature passed five sweeping amendments to the IWPCA that dramatically increased penalties to deter wage theft and created an administrative small claims process to allow victims to prosecute their own claims efficiently. Just Pay also played a key role in the passage of a new wage theft ordinance for Chicago in 2013, one of the first municipal ordinances of its kind in the nation. For two years after passage of the amendments, the Coalition collaborated with the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL) to ensure vigorous implementation and enforcement of the hard-won laws.

This combined victory of policy change, enforcement, and community organizing has made a dramatic impact. IDOL reported that $6.2 million dollars were successfully recovered in 2012, including $2.8 million recovered through IWPCA—representing a 50 percent increase in total wages recovered since 2011.

The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award recognizes an organizing campaign that has achieved and sustained a victory that measurably improves the vitality of a community and/or positively affects the quality of life of a group of people. This award recognizes the value of community organizing, community engagement and advocacy as important and effective ways to transform neighborhoods or empower communities that have experienced significant social or economic inequities.