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Feds retrieve nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages for Aurora store employees

Feds retrieve nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages for Aurora store employees
Feds retrieve nearly $400,000 in unpaid wages for Aurora store employees 04:55

CHICAGO (CBS) – Wage theft costs Americans more than any other type of theft. The figure nationwide is $50 billion. But, for each person impacted it can be hundreds or even thousands of much-needed dollars. Some people might not even realize they are missing money from their paychecks because sometimes it's just a few dollars here and there.

A worker advocacy group, the Chicago Workers Collaborative helped Jose Neri, one Illinois worker whose employer didn't pay him what he was owed.

He worked for one week at a home and office cleaning business. He spent that week tidying up a Target store. The job ended but his paycheck from the cleaning company never arrived.

Jose Neri Alfredo Roman/CBS Chicago

Neri said he asked his employer for his money several times unsuccessfully. He said he believes the cleaning business was taking advantage of his immigration status and difficulty speaking English. "In the end, we are human, and we should not work for free," he said.

Neri reported his case to the Illinois Department of Labor (IDOL).

Data obtained by CBS News reveals nearly 24,000 workers in Illinois filed claims like Neri's between January 2017 and early October 2022. The total amount workers claim they were cheated out of totals $194 million.


IDOL isn't the only agency investigating wage theft in Illinois.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) just wrapped up an investigation involving the Supermercado Carrera in Aurora. Investigators discovered the small grocery store did not pay 49 of its workers all of the money they were owed.

Federal law requires companies to pay time-and-a-half for more than 40 hours worked in a week.  Investigators found Supermercado Carrera paid employees a flat salary instead.

Filemon Pastor was one of the affected employees. "I used to work up to 70 hours a week. The pay stayed the same. They did not pay me overtime," he said.

Filemon Pastor Alfredo Roman/CBS Chicago

As result, workers like Pastor were shortchanged just short of $200,000.

"In many instances the employer is knowingly violating or trying to reduce the labor costs," said Tom Gauza, the district director for the Chicago Wage and Hour Office of the DOL.

In the end, the 49 workers from the market will share the nearly $400,000 in lost wages and damages. Pastor will get $31,000.

"You deserve to be paid for what you have worked for. It's a very simple concept," said Gauza.

"I thank God for this help," Pastor said, "I will not waste it. I have small grandchildren I can help whenever they need clothes, shoes, and food."


The numbers from the data provide a picture of how much money is at stake when employers don't follow the law.

Wage theft investigators say the most common businesses where violations occur are restaurants and food service, home healthcare, and local grocery stores.

The most common violations happening in those businesses include: illegal tip pooling, not paying overtime or minimum wage, misclassifying employees as exempt from overtime pay and not paying for travel time or missed meal breaks if required to do so.

The feds get back between $6 to $7 million dollars every year in back wages alone. That's just in the northern one-third of Illinois, the region covered by the Chicago District Office.

Data from IDOL which covers the entire state show that more than 3,000 workers file claims worth more than $20 million dollars altogether in a typical year. Not all of those claims are successful. The state has been able to get back at least $23 million for employees since 2017.

The median dollar amount for each claim in Illinois is close to $1,000 per person. That's enough to feed the typical family for four weeks.


Jose Neri got his money back about a year after he filed his claim with the state labor department. But, our analysis of the data shows the oldest open case dates back to April 2019, where someone claimed they were shorted $24,000 worth of pay.

State law does not set a time limit for IDOL to resolve a case. The numbers show there is a backlog of cases identified in the data as open. We counted 3,000 open cases as of October 2022.

IDOL admits there have been staffing shortages over the years, which an agency spokesperson told us they are trying to solve by hiring additional staff.

There's also the issue of finding everyone who is owed back wages. The Illinois State Comptroller shows $1.5 million sitting in the IDOL special state trust fund. Money recovered from employers flows in and out of this fund into the hands of employees who win their claims.

It includes money owed to people the state can no longer easily find.

There's a similar pool of money the federal government holds onto when investigations are successful but employees are hard to locate. In that case, unlike in Illinois, there is a website workers can check to find out if there's money attached to their names.

In Illinois, the state urges workers who've filed claims and haven't heard about the outcome to contact IDOL directly by phone or email.


You can file a wage theft claim at the federal, state or local level. Below you will find links to various agencies.


The United States Department of Labor / U.S. Wage & Hour Division

  • 866-4US-WAGE (866-487-9243)
  • Chicago office: 312-789-2950
  • Submit complaint Online
  • For wages owed search click here


 Illinois Department of Labor website

Illinois Attorney General Workplace Rights Bureau


Office of Labor Standards

  • Call 311
  • Submit complaint Online
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