An employment agency in Chinatown sued for allegedly exploiting Latino immigrant workers in several states will cease operations, according to a consent decree approved by a federal court judge Wednesday.
Xing Ying Employment Agency was a key target of a 2015 lawsuit brought by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan which accused a network of employment agencies and Asian restaurants of recruiting mostly undocumented Latino immigrants to work jobs for extremely low pay and long hours. The workers were often put up in substandard housing, the suit said.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, said “employment agencies essentially acted as central supply houses for a buffet restaurant industry seeking to profit from illegal and exploitative wages and conditions of employment.”
Under the consent decree approved Wednesday by U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee, Xing Ying, at 2228 S. Archer, must close immediately. Owners Jun Jin Cheung and Zhu Ying Zhang, also named as defendants in the lawsuit, were barred from working in the industry.
“This action will put an end to the Xing Ying employment agency’s horrific and illegal employment practices,” Madigan said in a press release about the decree. “The agency subjected workers to discrimination and inhumane conditions, violating workers’ civil rights and enabling its restaurant clients to pay workers substandard wages. Xing Ying will be shut down.”
The release said the workers were “consistently underpaid, discriminated against based on their race and national origin and housed in abysmal conditions.”
The decree is valid for 10 years. If the decree is violated, the owners could be liable for $100,000 in fines.
An attorney for Xing Ying, which has operated since 2008, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Previously, the owners of the agency declined to comment to reporters for the Sun-Times and Wisconsin Watch about the allegations in the lawsuit.
Madigan had earlier settled with other defendants in her suit, including Hibachi Grill Buffet in Cicero, which was ordered to pay a total of $96,000 in back wages to seven employees and in penalties to the state, and Hibachi in Elk Grove, which paid a total of $100,000 in back wages to four employees, plus penalties to the state. Another Chinatown employment agency was ordered to pay the state $16,500 in penalties.
In a story published Sunday, immigrant workers interviewed for a Sun-Times and Wisconsin Watch report said they found the Chinatown agencies through newspaper advertisements in a Chinese-language newspaper promising restaurant work with wages as much as $2,000 a month, plus a place to live.
The agencies charge employers between $120 and $220 for each worker, who then repay the fee through their paychecks, according to workers and legal documents.
Some workers said recently they are still being taken advantage of in low-wage jobs they were referred to through employment agencies. Many are homeless and live under the 18th Street Bridge.
Beto, a 27-year-old undocumented immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico, showed a referral slip from Xing Ying from June to the Sun-Times as evidence that he had used their service. He was charged $100 for transportation, along with a $100 fee, according to the slip. He asked his last name not be used out of fear of deportation and losing work. He echoed some of the work conditions that were laid out in the 2015 suit — low wages, long hours and poor living facilities.
While the decree filed Wednesday ends Madigan’s investigation, spokeswoman Eileen Boyce said “our Civil Rights bureau and workplace rights bureau are always taking complaints.”