Church Dispute Leads to Hunger Strike

Two men are claiming an Aurora church owes them more than $26,000

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh thy pay.

    A pair of immigrant workers won't eat until a suburban church pays up.

    Jose Cipriano Nevarez and Manuel Sanchez Vega are demanding that the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith Church in Aurora pay them $26,043 for work they completed last November. 

    The church's pastor, Rev. Rodolfo Hernandez, says the two men volunteered their services and disputes their claims, the Chicago Tribune reports.

    Cipriano says that holy hogwash.

    "Why would I work for free for three months when I have a family to support? These are lies," said Cipriano, a Mexican immigrant who legally entered the United States on a work visa.  "We asked, and they refuse to pay. ... So now, we're here to send a message to the community about what they have done."

    Everyone involved agrees that the two men were hired last August to dismantle the church's industrial air-conditioning system.

    Humberto Valdez, a church member, said the two men were homeless and interested in selling the scrap metal from the air-conditioning job.  Once they were finished with the air conditioning they were asked to and paint eight murals on the exterior of the East Aurora Flea Market, which is owned by the church. Valdez said the men received $1,500 for their services along with food and shelter. 

    "We helped them by letting them stay here and giving them food," Valdez told the Tribune.

    But he two men said they never received any food, shelter or money from the church, and in 2008, Cipriano filed an official complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor.  The case was later dismissed because Cipriano is not covered by the state's wage payment act because he is an independent contractor, the Tribune reports.

    "We're seeing more of this happening out here," said Cristobal Cavazos, director of Immigrant Solidarity DuPage, an immigrant advocacy group in the west suburbs. "They work them like dogs and then they don't pay them." 

    Cavazos hopes to mediate the situation with the help of local pastors.