Getting the Word Out to Workers
A few times a year, the STOP-IT program makes a concerted effort to get literature on human trafficking into the hands of as many people as possible. With the help of staff and volunteers, we assemble packets and head to various agencies around the city to explain to staff why we view their agency as a key place for these materials to be distributed.
This fall, following a robust Labor Rights Week where we participated in a variety of outreach events, we focused our efforts for distribution on different worker’s rights centers and a few alderman’s offices around the city.
Workers in the United States have rights. Often, when these rights are not afforded to them, workers will connect with workers’ rights centers or unions within a specific industry. In these instances, it is crucial that these centers are able to identify exploitation and trafficking.
Workers from all around the country can be vulnerable to exploitation. U.S. temporary foreign worker programs, sometimes referred to as guest worker programs, have more than doubled in size in recent decades: more than nine hundred thousand visas were granted in 2018, up from some four hundred thousand in 1994  . Current rules and fee requirements make it difficult for temporary workers to change employers, which prevents them from negotiating for fair wages and improved working conditions. Workers may be unaware of their rights or fear that if they come forward they could face retaliation or deportation. Workers rights centers seek to remedy this by educating workers about their protections under the law. For instance, ARISE Chicago has a worker’s rights manual that has been distributed to 20,000 plus workers  . Many times, as they educate workers on their rights, these centers are the first to hear about a situation where a laborer is being exploited or experiencing some sort of injustice in the workplace.
Our hope is to come alongside people who are already doing this valuable work in order to parse out the differences between wage theft, labor exploitation and labor trafficking. We want these other organizations to know about our work and the resources that The Salvation Army STOP-IT program and the other members of the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force can offer. Our task force’s Labor Trafficking Subcommittee put together its own manual for workers centers for this very reason. “Understanding Labor Trafficking in the U.S. and Illinois: An introductory module for individuals and community groups on the laws and relief available for labor trafficking victims in the U.S. and Illinois” is a 25-page resource intended for workers’ centers, labor unions, and other community groups that advocate for low-income workers in Illinois  .
On our distribution days on September 17 and 18, we dropped off packets that contained posters about labor trafficking in Spanish and English, tear-off flyers with the STOP-IT hotline number that can be placed in bathrooms, as well as illustrations that depicted different trafficking situations with information on how to get help in 12 different languages  . We enjoyed the opportunity to meet different people working in these organizations, to hear about their work, and to talk about ways that we can collaborate together to fight human trafficking in the Chicago area. Several of these centers described having encountered survivors of trafficking already and many were keen to be able to provide these outreach materials to folks in need of help.
These materials are just one way to get the word out. Agencies have also started to provide education in a variety of formats, including through videos. In 2018, the U.S. Department of State put out an informational video on legal rights and resources for those applying for employment- or education-based nonimmigrant U.S. visas. Take a look at that video here.
If you have a question about human trafficking or a situation that you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact our 24/7 hotline for technical assistance at 877-606-3158.
Finally, if you are a worker who would like to know more about the rights that you are afforded under the law, the following organizations may have resources for you:
Centro de Trabajadores Unidos
Chicago Community and Worker’s Rights
Farmworker and Landscaper Advocacy Project
SEIU Local 73