A group of former temporary employees of the Ferrara Candy Company have taken their complaints about the company’s unfair and unethical labor practices to the stores where some of Ferrara’s well-known products, including Lemonheads, Jaw Busters, Super Bubble gum and Brach’s, are distributed.
Members of the community outreach organization Black Workers Matter resolutely rolled shopping carts down aisles at a Walmart in Humboldt Park on March 22. They wanted shoppers to questions the origins of their Easter Candy.
“You’re helping support a company that promotes discrimination,” Anthony Stewart, 57, and the co-founder of Black Workers Matter, told the visibly irritated manager of the Humboldt Park Walmart. “You’re helping promote a company that promotes racism. You’re helping promote a company that is getting rich off our labor while they are not even hiring from our community.”
Protestors allege that the agencies Ferrara Candy uses to temporarily staff its factories — Elite Staffing and Remedial Environmental Manpower (REM) — discriminate against African-American workers by refusing to hire them in favor of Latino workers and workers residing outside of the community.
Abdul Maureedullah, worked for the company on the assembly line for about three days in January 2016 before he decided to leave. During that time, he said, the company failed to effectively train workers, ignored issues he expressed when he did not receive his correct pay and shuffled him around from department to department when he voiced concern about his handling by the line manager.
“It was a very bad experience,” said Maureedullah. “Every worker deserves to be treated with respect.”
Stewart, an Austin resident, had a similar experience as an employee of the company. He says he worked in various capacities at the company in his roughly three months of working for it, but he primarily drove a forklift at the factory. He made $9.25 an hour, but often had issues receiving the money he earned because of alleged complications in the sign-in system that chronicled when Stewart arrived at work but not when he left.
“We live in a world of technology, everything can be seen and yet they claim that they can’t keep track of the hours I had worked? It made no sense to me,” said Stewart.
In December 2015, Ferrera and two temporary-staffing firms that provided labor for the factor at its Forest Park location, agreed to pay $1.5 million in restitution for racially insensitive activities that disenfranchised African-American workers at the warehouse facilities.
Under the terms of the settlement, presiding Judge John Z. Lee ordered Ferrara to pay $1 million, Elite Staffing to pay $450,000 and REM to pay $50,000. An estimated 1,100 workers are eligible for a part of the settlement amount, with individual workers entitled to upwards of $7,500 apiece.
However, despite the victory in court, some activists, like West Side community organizer Charles Perry, believe that the company maintains the same policies of discrimination that prompted the movement in the first place.
“They did settle their case, but the work conditions have remained the same,” said Perry. “People are still working long hours on a temporary basis without an opportunity to be hired for full-time. Yeah, they can settle lawsuits and admit no wrong-doing but the judge didn’t order them to change anything and so the same problems exist.”
Black Workers Matter was formed a few months ago by former temporary workers who wanted to put consistent pressure on the company. They demonstrated in Forest Park in February, an action that ended in Stewart and Ernestine Ali, 52, dropping off unfair labor complaints against Ferrara in the factory’s lobby area. It was only the latest in a string of demonstrations outside the Forest Park plant over the last few years.
The March 22 Walmart demonstration, however, was the first time the newly formed group has taken its protest into the retail stores where Ferrara’s brands are sold.
That action also included members of Fight for 15 and the Black Youth Caucus, carried signs that read “No Jobs Apartheid on the West Side” and “No Double Standards in Hiring and Firing.” As the crowd coalesced onto the sidewalk and car horns of support blared out in support, the group chanted, “Black workers matter because all workers matter!”
“[Walmart] wants to sell Ferrera Candy to children, but doesn’t want to inquire about the practices of one of its vendors in offering fair work conditions and compensation to their parents,” said Stewart. “By not asking the questions about the activities at the factories, the store has basically come out in support of the behavior. This is something all its customers should be aware of.”
Ferrera, which is headquartered in Oakbrook Terrance, was unavailable for comment for this story. In a statement to the Associated Press, the company denied any wrongdoing claiming that it “treats its employees and prospective employees with fairness, equality and respect. We look forward to putting this matter behind us.”
So far, both the staffing firms and Wal-Mart have not responded to AWN’s requests for comment.