All posts by Chris Ferlazzo

NWJP Spring Volunteers/Clerks

Every quarter, NWJP hosts several law students and other volunteers who are committed to developing their knowledge and skills, and protecting workers’ rights. This past Spring, we were lucky to host 4 such students: Ludmila Puchulu Mocchiutti, Cassie Blake, Richard Champion, and Aliza Saunders

Ludmila Puchulu Mocchiutti is a Bennington College student majoring in political science and economics. Originally from Argentina, Ludmila is planning to go to law school and is interested in migration, and Latino community rights. She says that she “loved working at NWJP -  good people, very supportive.” Ludmila helped with intakes, follow up with clients, and case support. Her other interests include skiing, photography, and dance.

Aliza, Richard, and Cassie hard at work. (Not pictured: Ludmila)

Cassie Blake is a third-year law student at Lewis & Clark Law School.  Cassie grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and received a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Portland State University.  During law school, Cassie focused on international human rights law, with a focus on populations in conflict.  She spent her two summers during law school working on human rights issues in Europe.  After graduation, Cassie plans to sit for the Oregon State Bar and hopes to pursue a career in the non-profit sector working in human rights, civil rights, and victim rights.

Richard Champion is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law in Iowa City, Iowa where he had a full-tuition Law Opportunity Scholarship. Richard, a native of Kelso, Washington, focused on Intellectual Property and Labor Law. As an undergrad, Richard earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon. After his undergraduate education, Richard worked at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) in Richland, Washington as a Chemical Research Fellow. For his graduate education, Richard earned a Master of Science in Chemical Engineering and a dual-PhD in Chemical Engineering and Nanotechnology, both at the University of Washington-Seattle campus. Prior to law school, Richard worked on the SeaTac $15 minimum wage initiative - the first $15 minimum wage law in the country and during law school he worked on the Bernie Sanders for President campaign.

Aliza Saunders is a participant in Tivnu: Building Justice, a Jewish social justice gap year program based in Portland. Through this program, she interns at NWJP, Street Roots, and Agape Village. Next year, Aliza will be attending Cornell University to study Design and Environmental Analysis. While Aliza has not yet decided if she wants to pursue law, she is thankful to have been able to work at NWJP on both the No on 105 Campaign and learning the ins-and-outs of nonprofit law firms.

Thanks to Ludmila, Cassie, Richard, and Aliza!

Burgerville Workers Win More Elections!

The Burgerville Workers’ Union is an NWJP client, and the first fast-food union in the country. Because of incredible organizing by workers, BVWU has now won elections in five stores. In December, the Hawthorne and 12th location voted to join the bargaining unit. Then last month, two more shops voted to join the union, despite an especially hostile anti-union campaign.

The union continues with the hard work of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. Meanwhile the boycott against Burgerville continues. With help from NWJP attorney Kate Suisman, and super-volunteer John Sutter, (link to profile) the union is engaged in productive bargaining with Burgerville that is already bringing real improvements to all Burgerville workers, including the right to tips. Worker organizing is a beautiful thing!

Advocacy Day to Stop Wage Theft: April 23rd – Please join us to support the Oregon Corporate Accountability Act!

NWJP is part of a powerful coalition working to pass a major piece of legislation in Salem this session.  Alongside the Working Families Party, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, the Oregon Trial Lawyers’ Association, Service Employees International Union Locals 49 and 503, and the AFL-CIO, and other members of the Coalition to Stop Wage Theft, NWJP is working hard to pass the Oregon Corporate Accountability Act (OCAA).

Working families have won important victories on a range of workplace rights in the past five years: a dramatic increase to the minimum wage, paid sick leave, fair scheduling and equal pay guarantees.  However, these victories need to be meaningfully enforced if workers are to benefit from them, and that is where OCAA comes in.

How Does it Work?  The Oregon Corporate Accountability Act will deputize whistleblowers who identify violations to bring cases on behalf of the state.  Briefly, the process goes like this:

  • A worker files a complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries.  Whistleblowers who fear retaliation can also authorize a nonprofit community organization to file the complaint.
  • BOLI decides whether to bring an action or let the whistleblower manage the suit on the state’s behalf.  If the whistleblower proceeds, the state continues to oversee the litigation.
  • If a judge finds that the company broke the law, the company is ordered to pay penalties based on the number of impacted workers – so, small businesses will pay small fines and multinational corporations will pay large ones.
  • Most of the penalty revenue goes to the state, with a portion rewarding the whistleblowers.  The state can use the revenue to hire more investigators, invest in technology to streamline enforcement, or partner with community organizations to educate consumers and workers about their rights and identify violations.

We are happy to report that OCAA was voted out of the Senate Workforce committee this week, clearing its first major hurdle.

OCAA is a bill about enforcing our worker protection laws, and on advocacy day this year, we will share stories of under-enforcement and encourage our elected leaders to pass this important bill.  We will have a training and orientation before any meetings take place, so don't worry if you haven't done this sort of thing before.  Now is the time to get involved!  Please RSVP by filling out this form.

We will be advocating together from 10 AM to 3 PM at the State Capitol on April 23rd.  Lunch is provided.  Please reach out to Kate Suisman at kate@nwjp.org, or 503-525-8454 with questions.  We look forward to seeing you there.

From Michael’s desk

¡Ponte trucho! No Match Letters are On the Way Once again

Photo by Doug Yarrow. Michael explains pending Wage Theft legislation in our 2015 advocacy day.

Veterans of the struggle to support immigrants living in this country will remember the problems that arose from “no match” letters in the last decade.  A “no match” letter is a notification to an employer that the social security number the employer is using to report wages for an employee does not match the employee’s name in SSA’s data base. This can come about for a number of reasons, including change of name after marriage, misspelling or transposition of numbers in the employer’s records, or use of an incorrect number.  The receipt of a no-match letter does not indicate anything about the worker’s status, and does not require the employer to terminate the employee.  Because of problems in administering this system, the practice of sending out no-match letters ended more than ten years ago.

In July 2018 the Trump Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that, beginning in the spring of 2019, it will send no-match letters to every employer that has at least one Social Security “no-match.” The stated purpose of these letters is to assure that workers affected will be able to claim the social security benefits attributable to these wages. However, the transparent purpose in taking this action is to make life as miserable as possible for immigrants living in the US.

We can do some things to prepare. Above all, workers need to know that, once they have initially verified their eligibility to work, details about their immigration status are private and should not be discussed with others, including employers. Even with ICE, they have the right to remain silent. Employee representatives can negotiate with employers about how these letters will be handled.  For more information about how to respond see NILC's FAQ page.

Northwest Workers’ Justice Project seeks Bilingual Paralegal*

The Northwest Workers’ Justice Project exists to support the efforts of low wage, immigrant and contingent workers to protect workplace dignity and to improve their wages and working conditions. We offer high-quality, direct legal assistance to workers and their organizations; support organizing efforts; educate workers, their leaders and the public about workplace rights; advocate for better employment laws; and promote greater access to low-cost employment legal assistance. Our office is in Portland, Oregon.

Position description:

*Paralegal certification is not a requirement for this position. On-the-job training will be offered to the successful candidate who displays appropriate basic skills.

NWJP seeks a full-time paralegal to help educate immigrant workers who are seeking assistance with employment legal problems about their rights as immigrants, evaluate their potential for immigration relief, and support them through all stages of workers’ rights litigation.

Duties may include:

  • Detailed client interviews on immigration histories and equities, and concerning workplace disputes;
  • Detailed fact investigation;
  • Work with staff to develop and execute outreach strategies to current and prospective clients and community organizations in order to overcome irrational fears about immigration enforcement and provide up-to-date, accurate information about what is actually happening in immigration enforcement. Outreach and community education  may include using Spanish media outlets.
  • Work with attorneys and immigration law partners to develop and implement immigration screening protocols;
  • Compile immigration and other resource materials for clients;
  • Work with clients to develop immigration enforcement crisis plans;
  • Case management and support, including document and file management, research, drafting legal documents, managing and maintaining client communications.

The position requires the ability to work well with co-workers and a variety of external partners including civil rights organizations, immigrants’ rights organizations, and community and other advocacy groups. 

The ideal candidate will possess a combination of the following skills and experience:

  • Fluent English-language skills and high proficiency in spoken and written Spanish required;
  • Cultural competence to help address legal needs of immigrant workers and ability to establish trusting relationships;
  • Passion for social justice;
  • Ability to work both independently and as a team player;
  • Strong organizational skills, responsible follow-through and flexibility around reacting quickly to changing priorities;
  • Ability to be detailed-oriented with excellent time management skills;
  • Strong oral and written communication skills;
  • Strong computers skills, including word processing, spreadsheets and Googles Apps;
  • Immigration and/or employment law experience preferred, but not required;
  • Willingness to flex work schedule to work weekends and evenings, as needed.
  • A valid Oregon driver’s license and access to a vehicle to travel to presentations outside of Portland.

How to apply:

Please send cover letter, resume, writing sample and three references to Corinna Spencer-Scheurich at jobs@nwjp.org. Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. Please send materials no later than February 5, 2019.

NWJP is an equal opportunity employer. We encourage applicants who will contribute to our diversity to apply.

Salary: Full-time position. Salary is commensurate with salary paid by Oregon legal services programs, which depends on experience. NWJP offers healthcare premium reimbursement.

Ramon Ramirez from PCUN Urges Support for NWJP

As we wrap up our 15th year of providing much needed legal support for marginalized workers, we are sharing a few stories from some of the organizations we have partnered with over the years.

Our last story comes from our very first partner in this fight -- Ramon Ramirez, long term leader of Oregon’s Farmworker Union – PCUN:
I think PCUN has been successful on many fronts but one of the fronts that we’ve been really successful is protecting the rights of farmworkers. And without the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project being there, ready to file complaints, ready to file lawsuits against abuses and exploitation of farmworkers, we wouldn’t have gotten to the place that we’re at right now.

I think that it’s really awesome to have legal minds backing the organizing work. In addition to that, I think Michael Dale has played a really important role not only in the work here in Oregon but in our work nationally around immigration reform. I remember that Michael was our attorney on the Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride that took us across the USA from Oregon, he was on the Oregon bus, and we went to Washington DC and then eventually to New York to fight for immigration reform, he was our attorney. But Michael has done a lot of international work around temporary foreign worker issues, making sure that when those workers, if they’re going to come up to Oregon that their rights are respected, and that they don’t undercut the rights of US workers. We’ve done a lot of work around pesticides, around, you know, I can’t count the number of lawsuits that we’ve filed against the Department of Labor, against EPA, and other state agencies to make sure that farmworker rights were respected.

NWJP has done so much to support PCUN over the years – I urge you to support NWJP now.

Ramon Ramirez
PCUN

 

This long time partnership with PCUN is a model for how we work with other unions and organizations that are helping workers organize for more power, for a voice in their workplace. Because of the generous donations we get from our supporters, we are able to put resources into developing relationships with and supporting other organizations (like the Bakers’ Union, and the Burgerville Workers Union). Your support will help us carry on that critical mission.

When we started this project fifteen years ago, we wanted to fill that gap between worker organizing and the law. We have been very successful, but only because of the support from people like you. Since opening our doors, our small staff has helped thousands of Oregon’s workers hold abusive employers accountable and recover well over $4 million in unpaid wages and damages. We’ve educated thousands of workers, worker advocates, and lawyers about labor rights and immigrant rights. Our political advocacy has led to stronger legal protections for workers in Oregon and nationally, and we’ve helped keep anti-immigrant laws out of our communities. NWJP’s efforts are helping low-wage workers to build a fair economy.

As NWJP celebrates our 15th anniversary, we are asking you to join us as we commit to another 15 years of solidarity. Please join us by donating $15 a month to support our ongoing work. If a monthly donation does not work for you, please consider a generous one-time donation.

And thanks to several generous NWJP donors, the first $7,000 of new donations will be matched!

Thank you!

Sincerely,

D. Michael Dale

P.S. NWJP is a non-profit that receives no funding from the government, and depends on the strong support of champions for justice like you in order to stand with workers like those at PCUN. You can help by donating online to the NEED Fund to support NWJP’s work at www.nwjp.org/get-involved


If you would like to make a non-tax-deductible gift directly to NWJP, please send a check made out to "NWJP" to 812 SW Washington, Ste. 225, Portland, OR 97205. Tax-deductible donations to support our work can be made to our 501(c)(3) partner, NEED Fund.

Luis Brennan from the Burgerville Workers Union Asks You to Support NWJP

As we wrap our 15th year of providing legal support for marginalized workers, we are sharing a few stories from some of the organizations we have partnered with over the years.

Our second story comes from Luis Brennan of the Burgerville Workers Union:

It’s hard to hold a job at Burgerville. You work long hours on your feet, and you end up smelling like french fries and burgers. On top of that, you’re still having difficulty making rent and your housing is always insecure because of the low pay.

I and a number of people from the IWW wound up getting jobs at Burgerville and began to build an organization with co-workers around a vision not just to change policies, but to create an organization to hold Burgerville accountable and serve as a voice for us as workers.

We got connected to NWJP and they offered to support us with legal resources for free.  It’s really been a game-changer. Because of their support, we’ve been able to have deeper strategy and have more nuanced focus about what we’re doing. We’ve been able to avoid pitfalls and feel more confident that we’re going to win. We’ve done this exciting thing of winning two National Labor Relations Board certification elections, the only fast food union in the country who’s done that, and we could not have succeeded without NWJP’s help. No one in the campaign had any election experience or knew how to work the election process. And NWJP was there every step of the way supporting us to do this and to win the elections. Another exciting election is around the corner.  Without NWJP’s help, I’m sure it wouldn’t have happened.  We are infinitely grateful for all they’ve done for us.

I hope you can support this important organization.

In solidarity,
Luis Brennan
Burgerville Workers Union

Workers who are trying to organize need access to good legal help. Larger unions can provide this, but many workers are left out. NWJP believes that true change for workers will only come through organizing so one of our strategies is to support workers and their organizations as they work to develop a voice in their workplace.

Because of the support we get from people like you, we have been able not only to work with Luis and his coworkers during their organizing and election, but we are currently assisting them at the bargaining table. The Burgerville Workers Union’s election made national history—and so will their first good union contract. Our hope is that it will be a model for the rest of the fast food industry.

You can help make sure that we are there to support more workers like Luis!

As NWJP celebrates its 15th anniversary, we are asking you to join us as we commit to another 15 years of solidarity. Can you pledge to donate $15 a month to support our ongoing work? If a monthly donation does not work for you, please consider a one-time gift.

Thank you!

Sincerely,
D. Michael Dale

P.S. NWJP is a non-profit that receives no funding from the government, and depends on the strong support of champions for justice like you in order to stand with workers like those at Portland Specialty baking. You can help by donating online to the NEED Fund to support NWJP’s work at www.nwjp.org/get-involved


If you would like to make a non-tax-deductible gift directly to NWJP, please send a check made out to "NWJP" to 812 SW Washington, Ste. 225, Portland, OR 97205. Tax-deductible donations to support our work can be made to our 501(c)(3) partner, NEED Fund.

Terry Lansing from the Bakers’ Union Asks You to Support NWJP

As we wrap up this turbulent year, we want to share accounts of our collaboration with a few of our partners in the fight against worker exploitation.

First up is Terry W. Lansing from the Bakers’ Union:

Dear Supporter of Workers’ Rights --

I am writing to share a small example of the work that NWJP does and how it brings about big changes for all Oregon workers and their families.

Throughout the year 2015, the Oregon AFL-CIO and the National AFL-CIO worked with our Bakers & Grain Millers Local 114 in an ambitious campaign to assist the workers employed at Portland Specialty Baking (PSB), to join together to form a Union to improve their wages, benefits, job safety, and other concerns.  Of the 188 workers at this bakery, almost all were immigrants and refugees, and for many, this was their first job in the United States.  Over a dozen languages were spoken among the workforce. This bakery was profiteering from the labor of some of the most defenseless workers in our society. Preying on language and cultural differences, PSB maintained difficult working conditions, long hours, and brutal and shifting schedules.

While our mass meetings with multiple translators were effective, the company-hired union buster was just as effective at intimidating the workers with lies such as the union would take away all of their vacation pay if they got fired. In the end, the union buster successfully scared the workers away from joining together, but there were many heroic workers who would not stand down.

That is where NWJP came in.  In interviewing these bakery workers, the NWJP attorneys made a startling discovery:  the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries (BOLI) was giving erroneous instructions to all manufacturing employers regarding how to pay overtime under Oregon law.  Workers were being shorted overtime wages.  There are two Oregon overtime laws for manufacturing:  overtime after 10 hours in a day; and overtime after 40 hours in a week.  BOLI instructed employers to only pay the higher of the two, not both overtime wages independently.  And this has been going on for decades.  NWJP argued that this is not right and stated their case to BOLI.  And Oregon BOLI agreed, and revised the instruction to employers.

If a worker in manufacturing worked 11 hours for 5 days, under the wrong instruction, the worker would get paid 5 hours of overtime.  Under the NWJP discovery, the worker would get 9 hours of overtime.  This was a huge win by NWJP for all Oregon manufacturing workers.  But like anything else, it does not end here.

When BOLI issued the new instructions, the business community erupted in outrage.  Their lobbyists immediately petitioned the Oregon Legislature for relief and a return to the original instructions.  Thus began a political journey spearheaded by the Oregon AFL-CIO and working with the NWJP attorneys to protect the new instructions or get something better.  It was a bruising 2016 legislative session of proposals and counter proposals.  The end result:  the Legislature gave back the previous overtime pay rule, but in exchange the Legislature approved HB 3485 which enacted strict limits on mandatory and permitted hours in a work day and work week with a $3000 penalty per incident (a law with real teeth in it).  But the law went further: in recognition that labor unions are the true voice of a group of collective workers, the law exempted employers with a represented work force so they could negotiate for themselves what works best.  If employers with non-union work forces did not like these new restrictions, these employers could recognize their workers in a Union and negotiate something different.  This was another huge win for workers in manufacturing, because once Union, they could negotiate all terms and conditions of work.

In addition, NWJP also filed a class action law suit on behalf of all Portland Specialty Bakery workers, past and present, regarding numerous other legal violations, and this is ongoing.

You can see how much energy and work NWJP does on behalf of all workers.  In this example, what started as a drive to assist the most defenseless of workers, ended up being a progressive change to Oregon work week laws for all of Oregon’s manufacturing workers. 

Please support the Northwest Workers' Justice Project for all they do.

Respectfully,

Terry W. Lansing
Secretary Treasurer
BCTGM Local 114

Terry gives NWJP a great deal of credit, but it’s only because of the partnerships with organizations like the Bakers’ Union that we are able to make significant advances like this.

With your support, we can develop even more partnerships, and win even bigger battles! As we saw in the recent election, the Northwest is ready to lead the way – we soundly defeated the anti-immigrant Measure 105, and elected pro-worker candidates at all levels locally. But we certainly have our hands full if we want to build a better future for all workers.

As NWJP celebrates our 15th anniversary, we are asking everyone to join us as we commit to another 15 years of solidarity. I am hoping that you will help us by donating $15 a month to support our ongoing work.

Sincerely,
D. Michael Dale

P.S. NWJP is a non-profit that receives no funding from the government, and depends on the strong support of champions for justice like you in order to stand with workers like those at Portland Specialty baking. You can help by donating online to the NEED Fund to support NWJP’s work at www.nwjp.org/get-involved


If you would like to make a non-tax-deductible gift directly to NWJP, please send a check made out to "NWJP" to 812 SW Washington, Ste. 225, Portland, OR 97205. Tax-deductible donations to support our work can be made to our 501(c)(3) partner, NEED Fund.

Our Fall Clerks

Every quarter, NWJP hosts several law students who are committed to developing their knowledge and skills, and protecting workers’ rights. This fall, we have been lucky to host such students.

Morganne Ashley is a third-year law student at the University of Oregon School of Law at the Portland campus. Morganne grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Louisiana State University. During law school, Morganne has focused on public interest law. She received the Oregon Law Students Public Interest Fund stipend in 2017 and spent a year in Europe studying public interest policy reform and international criminal law. In her spare time, Morganne enjoys running and is currently training to complete her 13th marathon. After graduation, Morganne will sit for the New York State Bar and hopes to pursue a career in international human rights and criminal defense.

Benjamin Pincus is a third-year law student at the University of Oregon School of Law at the Portland campus. Ben grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and received Bachelors of Arts degrees in both Philosophy and Justice Studies from Arizona State University. After graduating, Ben spent a couple of years working as a special education instructional aide and substitute teacher in low-income Phoenix area schools. He then realized that if he wanted to make a greater impact on society, he would need a law degree. This desire is what brought him to law school, Oregon, and his new focus on employment and labor law. Ben hopes to practice employment and labor law, education law, or otherwise work for a state agency upon graduation.

Thank you Morganne and Ben!

NWJP Reaches out to Workers

While NWJP is mostly focused on legal and legislative strategies, we also do a good deal of outreach and education, to make sure that workers know their rights and have access to important resources.

In late 2017, NWJP received a grant to provide health and safety training for workers, especially hard-to-reach workers.  NWJP Attorney Kate Suisman created a Spanish-language training program focused on chemical safety, and traveled throughout the state training workers.  In partnership with the NW Forest Worker Center in Medford, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste in Woodburn, and the Voz Workers' Rights Education Project in Portland, over 60 workers were trained.  NWJP recently was awarded another grant for the coming year, and Kate will again provide health and safety training to workers, this time with an emphasis on ergonomics.

In addition to the health and safety training, this year we have done nine bilingual Know Your Rights workshops. We partnered with organizations including PCUN, Growing Gardens, Clackamas County Hispanic Interagency Network Team, Adelante Mujeres, Latino Connection, and the Santa Cecilia Church in Beaverton. We have participated in eight tabling events at the Mexican Consulate. In total, we have engaged over 700 low-wage immigrant workers and counting in the following cities: Hillsboro, Gresham, Hood River, Beaverton, Oregon City, Medford, Woodburn, Forest Grove, Canby, and Portland. One of our trainers-Laura Galindo Palomera- said “A lot of the workers I talked to are discriminated against on a daily basis and they feel overwhelmed with threats and harassment. Engaging workers and reminding them of their workplace rights is the best way to ensure that they become their own advocates.”