El Milagro in the Little Village neighborhood on Feb. 19, 2021. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

LITTLE VILLAGE — Workers at El Milagro tortilleria are celebrating wage increases, schedule changes and more after months of fighting for better pay and working conditions.

Employees have been organizing with Arise Chicago since last summer about conditions at the tortilla company’s multiple locations on the city’s Southwest Side.

In September, workers walked out for an hour to make management aware of their demands. When they tried to return, the company had locked them out of the factory, not allowing them to get their personal belongings. It was only after hours of negotiations, which included police, that the workers were allowed back into the building.

A week later, workers, supporters and local elected officials gathered to reiterate their demands, saying they needed protections after working in extreme heat sometimes seven days a week, and even had sexual harassment complaints ignored.

El Milagro workers announced Monday victories on nearly all the issues they had been fighting for, including:

  • Multiple wage increases across sites, totaling approximately $1.3 million collectively
  • Ending 7-day work week 
  • No longer requiring a doctor’s note for one sick day
  • Anti-sexual harassment training for managers
  • Air conditioning in lunch rooms
  • No longer requiring workers to purchase and bring their own tools
  • Payout of unused paid sick days

“We are proud of what we accomplished,” said Pedro Manzanares, an El Milagro employee of 18 years and a worker committee member, in a statement. “These raises are historic for El Milagro. It would have taken 5 years to earn the raises we won in a few months due to our organizing. We never could have won without being organized and united.”

Not all demands have been met, however. Workers have been pushing for Sundays off, which has yet to happen.

“I never had time to spend with my kids who are now grown,” Manzanares said. “I want them to fulfill their promise so that my coworkers with young children can have the time with their kids that I lost.”

They’re also still demanding machine speed be reduced to prevent dangerous working conditions.

Employee and committee member Olga, who declined to use her last name, said the high machine speed causes back and hand pain.

“We put in all our strength to work hard and keep up, until we simply can’t do it any more,” she said in a statement.

After organizing the work-stoppage and the rallies last fall, workers reported their jobs were being threatened. But Arise Worker Center Director Laura Garza said Monday no employees have reported being fired or disciplined for their organizing efforts.

In a separate statement Monday, El Milagro said it’s been working with employees to review wages and benefits since early 2021 and instituted the pay increase six months ago — not because of Arise or any other outside source.

“We have hesitated to combat lies about our company as we are private and that is not our way. Our valued customers and employees know what El Milagro stands for,” the statement read. “El Milagro will continue to listen and engage in positive and productive conversation with all employees as part of an inclusive, strategic planning process.”