... must win:
Searching for a better life than the impoverished one he had in his native Mexico, Martin Cervantes moved to Chicago and took a job at a car-wash on the West Side.
But after a year and a half there, and fed up with work conditions, he quit and took a job in a factory.
Cervantes said he was never paid an hourly rate at the car-wash and was compensated only through tips. He said he worked long, gruelling hours — sometimes without a break — but never received overtime pay. Once, in order to pay rent and buy groceries, he had to sell his TV set.
"This is supposed to be the country of opportunities, but I can assure you the American dream is hard to fulfil," Cervantes, 29, said through a translator. "We want society to open their eyes — this job is poorly paid and hard work."
Cervantes gathered with other car-wash workers Thursday at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum for the release of a report detailing a bevy of negative labour conditions and abuses in the city's car-wash industry. The report was issued by the Labour Education Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Titled "Clean Cars, Dirty Work," the report, funded partially by United Steelworkers, found that a majority of Chicago car-wash employees, who are mostly men and Latino, earn less than the state's hourly minimum wage of $8.25 and work more than 40 hours every week.
The study also states that most do not receive safety equipment, such as gloves and goggles, while on the job, even though they use harsh chemicals when cleaning.
Meanwhile, Arise Chicago, an interfaith workers rights group, has launched a campaign to improve work conditions for the "carwasheros," a Spanglish term for car-wash workers.
Along with hearing the complaints of local car-wash employees, the organization was inspired by car-wash workers in New York and Los Angeles who have either unionised or boycotted work to fight for better health and safety rights.
"We won't stand for that kind of treatment, and we're willing to help (employers) change their ways," said Adam Kader of Arise Chicago.
Though he had not read the study, Eric Wulf, chief executive officer of the Chicago-based International Carwash Association, said his national organization's 12,000 members treat their employees fairly. But not all carwashes are part of his association, and he said variations of work conditions exist in nearly every industry, including his own.
"It's like restaurants," Wulf said. "There are lots of wonderful restaurants, and then there are some you might not go to, some that might not follow every rule."
Disgusted with his work conditions after 14 years, Angel Nava, 56, left his job at a carwash on the Near Northwest Side in 2011. There, his employer kept the tips, overtime was never paid and health insurance didn't exist, he said.
Nava, who still works in the industry, said he hopes the government and other agencies take control of the situation, though he doesn't know what to expect.
"But we are here and we are fighting to improve our working conditions," Nava said. "This is not only me talking; this is carwash workers in all of Chicago."