Nickeled and Dimed—Illegal Fees in the Raitero System
The raitero system of Chicago’s packing warehouses is a win for everyone except the actual workers themselves. It’s an employment system basically operated by the van drivers, or raiteros, who technically are only supposed to be concerned with transporting people to and from their jobs. Because of all the fees workers are forced to pay—illegally—they actually take home less than minimum wage. But because they’re undocumented immigrants, many workers are too afraid to speak up.
The fees begin with looking for work. Some raiteros charge people for their job applications. For those who don’t have their own social security number, they pay to use someone else’s number for $5. Once a worker is hired, they have to use the raitero to get to and from work, even if they have their own means of transportation. Those who don’t use the raitero system may find themselves without a job. Using a raitero costs $8 a day.
One man interviewed for the investigation said he lived in Joliet, where the warehouse was located, but in order to get to work, he had to drive up to Chicago and get on the raitero’s van, which drove him back to Joliet. Then, at the end of the day, he had to take the van back to Chicago and drive himself back to his home. The man could have saved himself hours by finding his own way to work, but he wouldn’t have had a job if he didn’t use the raitero.
Since workers must use raiteros to get to work, they don’t control when they get to work and spend a lot of time waiting. Workers reported being told to show up at 4:30 am for their ride. In fact, workers had to arrive by 4 am to insure they would have work that day. When they arrived at the warehouse, the time was 5:35 am. However, they were not allowed to punch in until 5:55 am for a shift that began at 6 am. The time spent waiting was not compensated.
At the end of the work week, workers don’t receive their paychecks at the work site. Instead, raiteros distribute their checks at check-cashing stores, where the workers must cash their checks. There is a one or two percent charge for cashing their checks, and some stores cheat them out of the change. For example, one worker reported receiving a check for $200.70, but the cashier kept the 70 cents. Even for workers who have their own bank accounts, they have no option but to use the check-cashing stores.
Other workers report never receiving checks for hours they put in. Sometimes overtime was not included. Other times, they simply didn’t receive a check for their work. According to one woman, when she didn’t receive her check for 40 hours of work, “They just had us back and forth, going to the office and the raitero. And your money? They didn’t give it to you.”
The raitero system exploits the most vulnerable workers and because they are so desperate to work, many just accept the system. Along the way, they are forced into handing over a large chunk of their paycheck for illegal fees.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered as, and does not constitute, legal advice. Do not rely on this article without consulting directly with an immigration attorney about the specific facts of your case. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship.
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