University of Illinois at Chicago Office of Public Affairs (MC 288)
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November 5, 1999 Contact: Jody Oesterreicher (312) 996-8277, joest@uic.edu

LEADERS GATHER AT UIC TO ELIMINATE CHICAGO SWEATSHOPS

Many people think that sweatshops are a thing of the past in the United States, but Dr. Peter Orris, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, sees things that the average person does not.

"I know that sweatshops exist in Chicago because I regularly see patients with the injuries and illnesses that are caused by sweatshop conditions," Orris said.

The Great Lakes Center for Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health in UIC's School of Public Health is hosting "Sweatshops in Metropolitan Chicago: A Conference on Workers's Voices," Friday, Nov. 19, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m., UIC Chicago Illini Union, 828 S. Wolcott St.

Experts from the Taylor Institute and Midwest Center for Labor and Community Research will present findings from their new survey of 800 sweatshop workers in metropolitan Chicago. The survey is the first of its kind on city sweatshops. Its purpose was to find out what sweatshop conditions are like here and who works in these businesses. Historically, there has been little hard data on this topic. With the survey information, workers and their advocates stand a better chance of eliminating the problem, UIC experts say.

The conference will include presentations from: academic experts on occupational health and safety; union, community, business and religious leaders; federal, state and local government representatives; public health professionals; and sweatshop workers.

A sweatshop, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office, is an employer that "violates more than one federal or state labor law governing minimum wage and overtime, child labor, industrial homework, occupational safety and health, workers's compensation or industry registration." They usually employ immigrants who speak little or no English and are unfamiliar with U.S. labor laws.

On both U.S. coasts, many sweatshops can be found in the garment industry. In Chicago, where the garment industry is small, sweatshops are found in a broader cross section of industries, including light manufacturing, restaurants, nurseries, domestic services and home construction.

UIC's Great Lakes Center for Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety exists to improve, promote and maintain the health of workers and communities by preparing professionals to be leaders, providing continuing education, conducting research, providing technical assistance, and serving as a regional information source.

CONFERENCE SCHEDULE

9 a.m. Welcome

Dr. Daniel Hryhorczuk, UIC's Great Lakes Center for Environmental and Occupational Safety and Health

Rebekah Levin, Taylor Institute

Bob Ginsburg, Midwest Center for Labor and Community Research

9:30 a.m.

Sweatshops in the United States, Bob Ginsburg

Epidemiology of Sweatshop Injuries and Illnesses, Dr. Rachel Rubin

10 a.m.

Taylor Institute Sweatshop Working Group Project Survey: Development, Methodology and Findings, Rebekah Levin

10:45 a.m. Ways to Proceed

New York State Apparel Industry Task Force, Richard J. Polsinello, New York State Department of Labor

Interfaith Organizing, Kristi Sanford, Chicago Interfaith Committee on Worker Issues

Manufacturer and Retailer Practices, Elliot Lehman, Fel-Pro Inc.

11:30 a.m. Keynote Address

Noon Lunch

1 p.m. Panel: Workers Affected by Sweatshop Employment

Moderated by Rebekah Levin

Introduction and presentation of trauma case studies by Sue Avila, Cook County Hospital

2 p.m. Forum: Government, Community and Labor: Standards, Programs and Approaches

Moderated by Leslie Nickels, UIC's Great Lakes Center

Rob Lisec, Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration

Russ Adams and Julie Bakker, Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Tim Bell, Erie House (community-based organization)

Flo Estes, UNITE (community-based organization)

3 p.m. Workshops

Public Health Program Responses, Leslie Nickels

Workplace Rights and Enforcement, Bob Ginsburg, Rob Lisec, Joe Zanoni, UIC

Community Organization Responses, Rebekah Levin, Flo Estes

4:15 p.m. Forum: Outcome, Organizing, Evaluation and Closing, Leslie Nickels

With 25,000 students, the University of Illinois at Chicago is the largest and most diverse university in the Chicago area. UIC is home to the largest medical school in the United States and is one of the 88 leading research universities in the country. Located just west of Chicago's Loop, UIC is a vital part of the educational, technological and cultural fabric of the area.

-UIC-

 
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