Workers protest outside courthouse. | Chicago Tribune

Car wash employees in Chicago won’t likely see a dime of the wages they’re owed by their former employee. The Chicago Tribune reports that just as workers were suing for tens of thousands of dollars in back wages, the company they used to work for declared bankruptcy. The move makes it so the owners of the business won’t have to pay out.

The car wash employees who used to work at Little Village Car Wash showed up to demonstrate outside the courthouse earlier this month. They expected a happy end to a court battle lasting more than three years. Instead, they learned the owner had declared bankruptcy.

“We live from day to day with barely enough to eat and support our families,” said Sabino Cervantes, who is owed nearly $77,000 for his work at the car wash, according to the Illinois Department of Labor. But the owner “told us ‘I’d rather pay my lawyer than pay you,'” he added.

Unfair labor practices in the car wash industry are common where illegal workers are employed despite their immigration statuses. Because of their situations, many do not receive labor protections afforded to legal workers. Many do not know how to advocate for themselves. The workers at this car wash did not realize they were being paid less than minimum wage until they were owed thousands.

Local activists are pushing for a bill currently in committee in Illinois that would protect workers from wage theft. A study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago study estimated workers in Cook County lose $7.3 million a week to wage theft, the Tribune reported.