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Stuck in a labor trap: More from ProPublica


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    Little Village on Chicago's west side in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2013. Workers board a yellow school bus owned by the raitero Rigo.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Little Village on Chicago's west side in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2013. Workers who were told they have work by Rigo walk through an alley to a yellow school bus.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Little Village on Chicago's west side in the early morning hours of Jan. 18, 2013.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Little Village on Chicago's west side in the early morning hours of April 15, 2013. Raiteros tell workers to meet them at certain street corners at specified times. They then transport the workers to warehouses and factories throughout the Chicago area using vans and buses.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Little Village on Chicago's west side in the early morning hours on Jan. 18, 2013. One raitero named Rigo picks workers up in an alley behind a blue-neon-lit dentist clinic and a shop selling quinceañera dresses, as seen in this photo shot off of a window's reflection.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    The yellow school bus owned by Rigo transports workers from the alley in Little Village to the Ty Inc. warehouse 30 miles away in the southwest suburb of Bolingbrook, outside of Chicago, Ill., on Jan. 18, 2013.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Temp workers get off Rigo's bus and walk into the Ty warehouse in the southwest suburb of Bolingbrook outside of Chicago, Ill., on Jan. 18, 2013.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Temp workers wait to punch in at the cafeteria of the Ty Inc. warehouse, in the southwest suburb of Bolingbrook outside of Chicago, Ill., on Jan. 28, 2013.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Little Village on Chicago's west side on April 19, 2013.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    A Western Union agent in Little Village on April 19, 2013. Until recently, the raitero Rigo would bring workers' paychecks to this Western Union agent. The check-cashing store sometimes dedicated a window for "Rigo's checks."

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    Other raiteros bring workers' paychecks to H Services Exchange at 26th Street and Hamlin Avenue in LIttle Village, as seen in this photo from April 19, 2013.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    The Manantial de Vida church in Little Village on Chicago's west side on April 19, 2013. One raitero, Bertin Salgado, is the pastor who runs what is essentially a dispatch room for the temp agencies out of the church.

    - Sally Ryan for ProPublica

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    A Beanie Babies display in Grand Central Terminal, in New York, N.Y., on April 21, 2013. Ty Inc. became one of the largest manufacturers of stuffed animals in the world thanks to the craze over Beanie Babies in the 1990s.

    - Krista Kjellman Schmidt/ProPublica

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    The business card of Rigo, whose full name is Rigoberto Aguilar, reads in Spanish, "If you want to work, you have the solution." Phone numbers have been obscured.

    - Michael Grabell/ProPublica

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    Temp workers go to Rigo's apartment to fill out applications for the temp agency, Select Remedy. The sign on the front door of Rigo's building says, "Señor Rigoberto lives on the second floor. If you come looking for work, go upstairs."

    - Michael Grabell/ProPublica

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    In the Ty Inc. warehouse, next to the punch clock is a sign that reads in Spanish, "Please do not punch in until 5:55 a.m. This measure will be strictly enforced, and measures will be taken with employees that don't follow the rule."

    - Michael Grabell/ProPublica

CHICAGO — Ty Inc. became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of stuffed animals thanks to the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s.

But it has stayed on top partly by using an underworld of labor brokers known as raiteros, who pick up workers from Chicago’s street corners and shuttle them to Ty’s warehouse on behalf of one of the nation’s largest temp agencies.

The system provides just-in-time labor at the lowest possible cost to large companies — but also effectively pushes workers’ pay far below the minimum wage.

Continue reading this story on Propublica.org


RELATED: Marketplace teamed up with ProPublica for a special joint investigation to examine the active "raitero" system in Chicago’s Little Village, the largest Mexican community in the Midwest. Follow more coverage in our series Taken for a Ride: Temp Agencies and ‘Raiteros’ in Immigrant Chicago.

FEATURE: Going for a ride with Chicago's 'raiteros'
In Chicago some of America’s best-known companies and largest temp agencies benefit from an underworld of labor brokers, known as "raiteros." Those raiteros charge workers fees, pushing their pay below minimum wage. Marketplace's Jeff Tyler Reports. Read more

LISTEN: The Backstory
Marketplace reporter Jeff Tyler and ProPublica's Michael Grabell answer questions about their investigation, finding sources and reporting in this special Marketplace podcast. Listen

Nickel and dimed
Imagine paying a fee to work. Paying a fee to get your paycheck cashed. In one neighborhood in Chicago, workers face financial hurdles because of a system of labor brokers. Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler reports. Read more

The business risks of subcontracting (coming Tuesday)
Subcontracting is nothing new in the economy. In Chicago, some companies contract with temp firms, which then subcontract with underground labor brokers to recruit workers. How do these middlemen save money for their employers? Marketplace's Jeff Tyler reports.

About the author

Michael Grabell has been a reporter at ProPublica since 2008, producing stories for USA Today, Salon, NPR, MSNBC.com and the CBS Evening News.
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