Chicago Lake Liquors employees petition for raises; five fired two days later

Wallace (left) argues Chi-Lake management acted illegally in firing her and four coworkers.
Wallace (left) argues Chi-Lake management acted illegally in firing her and four coworkers.
Snow Arch Films screengrabs (watch the Snow Arch film about Saturday's picketing here)

At the end of the workday on Saturday, March 30, 13 employees at Chicago Lakes Liquors presented their general manager with a petition asking that all of the 25 or so employees at the store receive raises.

:::: UPDATE :::: Fired Chicago Lake Liquors workers create website soliciting donations

When five of the workers who signed the petition showed up to work two days later, they were fired. According to two of them -- Hallie Wallace and Max Specktor -- four of the five were given no explanation for their termination beyond being told by management that their employment at the store no longer made business sense. Wallace admits she was two hours late on the day she was fired, though she attributed that to a miscommunication about her schedule.

Though workers at Chi-Lake aren't formally unionized, both Wallace, 22, and Specktor, 24, are members of the Industrial Workers of the World (Specktor previously lost his job at the Block E Jimmy John's for his involvement in the failed unionization drive there). Last Saturday night, Wallace and Specktor led a picket action outside the store demanding that the fired workers get their jobs back and management meet their demand for raises.

Wallace and Specktor have already filed a wrongful termination claim with the National Labor Relations Board. They argue the mass firing was a violation of employee rights as spelled out under the National Labor Relations Act, specifically (italics mine):

Activity Outside a Union

Employees who are not represented by a union also have rights under the NLRA. Specifically, the National Labor Relations Board protects the rights of employees to engage in "concerted activity", which is when two or more employees take action for their mutual aid or protection regarding terms and conditions of employment. A single employee may also engage in protected concerted activity if he or she is acting on the authority of other employees, bringing group complaints to the employer's attention, trying to induce group action, or seeking to prepare for group action.

A few examples of protected concerted activities are:

-- Two or more employees addressing their employer about improving their pay.
-- Two or more employees discussing work-related issues beyond pay, such as safety concerns, with each other.
-- An employee speaking to an employer on behalf of one or more co-workers about improving workplace conditions.

The petitioning workers demanded that Chi-Lake management raise the starting wage for workers from $8 to $9 an hour, raise the pay ceiling from $10.50 to $13 an hour, and give all workers a $1-per-hour raise. According to Wallace and Specktor, workers at Chi-Lake start at $8 an hour and receive a 25-cent raise every three months until they hit the $10.50-an-hour ceiling.

Chi-Lake workers engaged in two other recent "concerted activities" prior to the raise petition. A few months ago a number of them banded together to demand holiday pay, but management argued not providing holiday pay is an industry standard and didn't meet that demand. Then, a few weeks ago, a number of workers demanded changes to the way Chi-Lake schedules workers. That request was received more favorably, Wallace and Specktor said.

Asked why they think they deserve raises, Wallace and Specktor pointed to the volume of business the typically bustling Chi-Lake store does and said some of their friends and acquaintances working at other liquor stores make more money. Specktor said he thinks he, Wallace, and three other workers were targeted for termination on April 1 as part of management's effort to "cut off the head of the snake." Workers at Chi-Lake have very little interaction with owner John Wolf, so it's unclear to what extent he was involved in the decision to fire the five workers, Specktor said.

City Pages couldn't reach Chi-Lake management or ownership for comment on Sunday, but Wallace and Specktor said the store's general manager told concerned customers during Saturday night's picket that "all the facts will come out eventually." Wallace and Specktor take that as an indication that management and ownership are ready to argue their case before the Labor Relations Board. Wallace said she hopes they "will come to their senses and give us our jobs back" before then, adding that the mass firing, in her view, was "clearly illegal." She and Specktor plan to continue organizing picket actions outside the store until the fired workers either get their jobs back or have their case heard by the board.

"We aren't going anywhere," Wallace said.

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