The Long Haul to Work in Immigrant Chicago

In Chicago's Little Village, temp work is handed out by an underworld of labor brokers, called raiteros, who tacitly collaborate with some of the best-known companies and largest temp agencies in the United States. The agencies and host companies get just-in-time labor. But workers are forced to wait long hours and turn over money for rides and paychecks, effectively pushing their pay below the minimum wage. Related Story: Taken for a Ride: Temp Agencies and ‘Raiteros’ in Immigrant Chicago »

Little Village on the west side of Chicago is home to the largest Mexican community in the Midwest. It’s also home to an underground network of labor brokers that works closely with some of the nation’s largest temp agencies to provide low-cost labor to large corporations. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Workers begin to gather as early as 4 a.m. after being told by their "raiteros" to show up for temp work. They serve brand-name companies like Ty Inc., Pampered Chef and Fresh Express. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

The raiteros ferry as many as a thousand workers a day in vans and buses to warehouses throughout the Chicago area. Workers report packing products labeled with brand names for Sony, Frito-Lay, Pampered Chef, Smirnoff and Marlboro. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Rigo, a raitero filling orders for the temp agency Select Remedy, told workers in January to meet him no later than 4:30 a.m. in an alley behind a blue-neon-lit dentist clinic and a shop selling quinceañera dresses as seen in a window's reflection above. (Sally Rally for ProPublica)

Many workers arrived even earlier than 4:30 a.m. and boarded a yellow school bus, one of a fleet of vans and buses Rigo uses to transport the right number of workers to the right place at the right time for the temp agencies. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

But it's not the temp agencies that pay the raiteros. It's the workers — like those on the bus above — who pay them usually $8 a day. After that deduction of $40 a week, most workers earn less than the minimum wage. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

On this January morning, the bus, followed by a ProPublica reporter and photographer, took the workers some 30 miles away to a warehouse for Ty Inc., one of the world's largest makers of stuffed animals thanks to the Beanie Babies craze in the 1990s. Ty declined to comment for this story. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

There, workers got off the bus at 5:30 a.m., headed into the warehouse, signed their names to a sheet of paper and waited until just before 6 a.m. when they could start getting paid. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

As seen in this photo taken with a smartphone, a sign next to the punch clock at the Ty warehouse 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)

As a result, workers wait an hour and a half from the time they arrive in the alley in Little Village to the time they can punch in each day. Accounting for this time and the fees, their hourly rate falls more than $2 below the minimum wage. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Until recently, Rigo, the raitero, would pick up workers' checks from Select Remedy and drop them off at this check-cashing store in Little Village. There cashiers would take out the amount owed for rides as well as a fee for cashing the check, about $3 to $4. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)

Many other raiteros bring the workers' checks to H Services Exchange at 26th Street and Hamlin Avenue in Little Village. Workers say they feel pressured to cash their checks at these agents and sometimes have problems getting paid. (Sally Ryan for ProPublica)