All posts by Violeta Rubiani

2016 Event Sponsorship

Sponsor NWJP's annual event to stand with us for dignity in the workplace!

2016 Annual Celebration of Worker Justice

Friday, June 3, 2016
5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The Eliot Center
1226 SW Salmon St.
Portland, OR 97205

Join us as an event sponsor today!

As an event sponsor, you will receive event and drink tickets as well as public acknowledgment (details below). You will also help NWJP to offer year-round support to Oregon's low-wage workers. Together, we will continue to protect workplace dignity and improve wages and working conditions.

Sponsorship  Level Amount Benefits
Friend of Fairness $250 Two event tickets
Two drink tickets
Public acknowledgment
Champion of Change $500 Four event tickets
Four drink tickets
1/8 page recognition in program
Defender of Dignity $1,000 Six event tickets (reserved seats)
Six drink tickets
1/4 page recognition in program
Guardian of Justice $2,500 Reserved table (eight tickets)
Eight drink tickets
1/2 page recognition in program
Workplace Warrior $5,000 Reserved table (eight tickets)
Eight drink tickets
Full-page recognition in program
Ready to become an event sponsor? 

Register online or by returning this form via email, snail mail, or fax.

Questions?
Please contact Lindsay Jonasson, Interim Program Administrator, by email at lindsay@nwjp.org or by phone at 503-525-8454 ext 12.

Thank you for standing with NWJP to advance worker justice!

March 2016: From Michael’s Desk

Sometimes supporters ask us, “What does NWJP do? Are you lawyers? Organizers? Lobbyists or what?”  The struggle for social justice for low-wage workers requires us to take on different roles at different times. The articles in this e-report may help to illustrate how this works.

NWJP works hard in the legislature to achieve better policy for working families in Oregon. In doing so, we attempt to provide leadership opportunities for our clients to engage in the process of making public policy.  Workers like Selso, who has overcome depression, natural shyness, lack of English and, above all, his fear, to be able to tell his story about low wages and wage theft to legislators and the press. We also seek to work in partnership with other progressive organizations in coalitions like Fair Shot, Raise the Wage and the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft.  Together, we have a better chance to succeed, and will develop better policy.

But winning policy change is only the beginning. A few years ago we helped pass a whistleblower law that gave workers in the private economy protection from retaliation for raising issues at work about their employers breaking the law. But when Matteo Brunozzi tried to do this at his workplace, he was fired. In his case, the federal court interpreted the law in a very narrow way, and decided that it was okay for his employer to fire him. We think the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will correct this, but good lawyering is a must to achieve this result.

As a legal intern, Leila Wall worked on the preparation of the Brunozzi brief. Her work was a great help to us, but far more important than her work on this particular case, is that young lawyers and law students have the chance to see this kind of practice as an option for their future.  We need many more bright, talented young advocates to engage in the struggle for worker justice. We hope that our mentoring law students and new lawyers helps to create a pool of folks to pick up this challenge.

In conclusion, NWJP works through a variety of strategies to add our contribution to worker justice. I hope you enjoy reading about our work in this issue of the eNews.

In solidarity,

DMD
Michael Dale
Founder, Executive Director, and Senior Attorney, NWJP

Workers in Oregon to See Historic Pay Increase

by Marcus Swift, NWJP Staff Attorney
Photo by Fair Shot Oregon (via Facebook)

After months of legislative hearings and hours of emotional public testimony, Oregon workers who earn the minimum wage are about to receive a much-deserved raise. The historic increase was approved by lawmakers after lengthy debates in both chambers during the February 2016 session of the Oregon Legislature. The new law was signed by Governor Kate Brown on March 2, 2016.

The plan creates a unique three-tier system across Oregon with annual increases between now and 2022. Workers statewide will see the first increase to $9.50 per hour ($9.25 in rural counties) in July. After that, workers within the Portland Urban Growth Boundary will see a gradual increase to $14.75 by 2022. Over the next six years, workers in middle-tier counties (such Deschutes, Marion, and Lane), will see an eventual increase to $13.50, while workers in the largely rural third-tier counties will see their wages rise to $12.50. Significantly, the plan does not exempt agriculture workers, institute a tip-credit system for servers, or establish a lower training wage for teenagers. This is especially crucial for low-wage workers who are often carved out of the opportunity to earn a living wage.

NWJP was an active participant in the campaign as part of the Raise the Wage and Fair Shot for All coalitions, facilitating testimony from our clients, and coordinating lobby visits. Thanks to the work of these coalitions, and that of committed state lawmakers, low-wage workers, and other advocacy groups, this increase will bring more security and dignity for workers who put in a hard day’s work but still struggle to make ends meet. We also want to mention the terrific grass-roots organizing work of $15 Now, which was crucial in creating the conditions for legislative success.

Contrary to myth, the national average minimum-wage earner is not a teenager living at home, but a 35-year-old woman, usually with a child, and often the sole breadwinner. The minimum wage increase will help bring more Oregon families out of poverty and put more money in their pockets to pay bills and support their local economy.

The three-tier system is the first in the country, and one that, according to a national publication, seems to answer a question many states are currently grappling with: how to address increases in living expenses without hurting rural communities and small towns.

People who “eat” together…

by Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, NWJP Deputy Director
Photo by Lindsay Jonasson

For the last three years, NWJP has hosted regular brown-bag lunches for employment attorneys who seek justice for low-wage and contingent workers. Employee Advocates Together (or EAT) organizes (almost) monthly lunches that provide Portland-area attorneys a chance to develop community, meet face to face, and solve problems together.

Discussion topics and training sessions give legal services, solo and small-firm attorneys peer support and education on the nuances of representing low-wage workers in employment disputes. Recently, Ed Harnden, Managing Attorney of Barran Liebman, an employer-side employment law firm, met with EAT to talk about emotional distress damages from the perspective of defense counsel. On another occasion, Judge Michael Simon joined us to talk about representing low-wage and non-English speaking workers in federal courts, as well as updating us on federal rule changes. The Regional U-Visa Coordinator from the Department of Labor called in to train us on immigration relief for wage theft victims. Other training sessions have touched on collection on judgments, updates on new laws, legislative advocacy on behalf of low-wage workers, settlement agreements and their tax implications, fighting retaliation and arbitration through the NLRB, and deconstructing important case wins, like that of the Del Monte Fresh workers.

By working to strengthen local low-wage worker advocates, NWJP hopes to improve access to high-quality attorney for workers and to expand the resources that low-wage workers have in Portland. Plus, you can’t beat the company of passionate and dedicated workers’ rights attorneys for a weekday lunch.

If you are interested in joining us, please contact Corinna at corinna@nwjp.org.

NWJP Joins 9th Circuit Appeal to Fight for Whistleblower and Overtime Protections

by Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, NWJP Deputy Director
Photo by Julia Freeman-Wolpert via Freeimages.com

NWJP recently joined an important appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to protect two important rights: that of cable installers to earn overtime and that of private employees to protection under the state's whistleblower law.

Matteo Brunozzi worked for Cable Communications, Inc. (CCI) installing cable television and internet services for Comcast. CCI had a complicated piece rate and bonus scheme. Attempting to avoid overtime liability, CCI gave its employees a bonus that was reduced if they did not finish their assigned installations within the 40-hour work week. But because not finishing installations wasn't an option, the more Brunozzi worked, the more his bonus was reduced. This left him with essentially the same weekly pay whether he worked 40, 45 or 47 hours a week. When Brunozzi complained internally about the pay structure and what he believed was a violation of overtime law, he was fired.

Appealing a federal district court decision, NWJP is arguing -- with co-counsels David Schuck, Leslie Baze, and Phil Goldsmith -- that CCI cannot deprive workers of overtime wages through complex bonus calculations.

In addition, and perhaps with broader applicability, counsel is arguing that an internal complaint to a private employer should fall under the protection of Oregon’s whistleblower retaliation law.

The federal district court originally found that, while Mr. Brunozzi did report the overtime violation to his supervisors, it was not enough to invoke protections from retaliation. This interpretation could clearly take the teeth out of the statute and end up intimidating employees from making wage complaints.

We'll report the outcome of this case in future eNews so stay tuned!

Inside NWJP: Meet our law clerk Leila Wall

Leila

Leila is a Lewis & Clark Law School third-year law student who has been a legal extern with us since September. While at NWJP, Leila has written complaints for federal court and BOLI, drafted discovery requests, and lobbied at the State Capitol. She has particularly enjoyed working with clients and researching new areas of the law with which she was previously unfamiliar.

[pullquote align="right" cite="Leila" link="" color="#cc2e2e" class="" size=""] I look forward to whatever the future holds thanks to everything I've learned at NWJP.[/pullquote]

Leila says that being a law clerk at NWJP has been her favorite part of law school. “My two semesters at NWJP have provided me with invaluable legal experience and ignited passion in an area of the law I didn’t know I was interested in.” Leila believes that externing at NWJP has allowed her to positively impact people’s lives, and she is thankful for the opportunity to reconnect with the type of work that made her want to become a lawyer in the first place.

In her free time, Leila enjoys cooking, baking, doing arts & crafts, and practicing yoga. She is an avid explorer of the outdoors and will happily spend hours recounting her favorite hiking destinations. When her schedule allows it, she does freelance graphic design work for nonprofit organizations.

After she graduates in May, Leila hopes to continue supporting and educating workers in the Pacific Northwest so they are able to assert their rights. “I am grateful for all of the knowledge I gained during my time here, and for the kindness and generosity of the entire NWJP staff.” We are grateful for her hard work, indelible smile, and willingness to take on the challenges we threw her way. We are sure she'll achieve anything she sets her mind to accomplish.

 

 

January 2016: From Michael’s Desk

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

As we start the New Year, strident anti-worker voices seem to be everywhere. In the fall, we are likely to see a number of ballot measures funded by wealthy corporate interests designed to cripple the ability of workers to act together in their common interest. Litigation pending in the Supreme Court poses a similar threat. Some of the leading presidential candidates spew hateful, anti-immigrant messages appealing to fear and nativism, and they seem to be winning support through this call to the basest impulses of the public. And anti-government extremists stand in armed rebellion against efforts to make sensible rules about the use of our common public lands.

If workers’ voices are to penetrate this din, it will only be because we speak and act together with savvy, purpose and courage.  Recent events show that when we act together, we can win both big and small advances for workers—whether in the legislature, at the ballot, or on the job site.  But our ability to do this is in jeopardy.  We are in a critical struggle for the future of a progressive Oregon. At NWJP we intend to weigh in on this fight, wherever and however we can.  Let’s make this a year that strengthens workers’ voices and advances their interests!

DMD
Michael Dale
Founder, Executive Director, and Senior Attorney, NWJP

Oregon Legislature looks to tackle big issues for low-wage workers in 2016

By Marcus Swift, NWJP's Staff Attorney
Photographer unknown

The 79th assembly of the Oregon Legislature doesn’t officially start until February 1, 2016, but efforts are already underway to improve conditions for Oregon workers. The most pressing issues? An increase to the state’s minimum wage and added tools to enforce existing wage laws, protect workers, and collect unpaid wages.

Various proposals to increase the minimum wage have been introduced through both the ballot initiative process and the legislature, including the latest – a plan by Governor Kate Brown to raise the minimum wage gradually to $15.52 in the Portland metro area and $13.50 statewide by 2022. Hundreds of supporters of an increased minimum wage attended a legislative hearing on the topic held on January 14. We heard compelling testimony from workers from around the state, including that of Bertha, one of our clients, who dreams of sending her daughter to college but can barely afford to stay afloat on her minimum wage job.

Working people in Oregon stand to gain much needed economic stability through efforts to raise the minimum wage. At the same time, an alarming number of workers are not receiving their wages after the job is done. This is especially common for people who work in restaurants, retail stores, construction, Oregon’s agricultural industry, and as domestic workers.

This session, the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft, led by NWJP, is supporting legislation to lay a solid foundation for additional reforms in 2017. Our proposed bill in 2016 would increase workers' ability to access their own wage and hour records (including detailed pay stubs), and hold employers accountable for denying access to such records. Additionally, the bill would give the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) additional resources to stop employers who are repeat offenders.

In an interim hearing on January 13, lawmakers heard from state and national experts on wage theft, officials from BOLI, and several workers in industries impacted by wage theft, including healthcare, construction, and the building trades. A tentative hearing on the full legislation is expected to take place on February 4, 2016.

To help make a difference and pass stronger wage theft laws this session, click here to find your Oregon State Senator and Representative. Then call or e-mail them and let them know that you support stronger enforcement of wage theft laws during the 2016 session.

Using the National Labor Relations Act to protect non-union workers

By Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, NWJP's Deputy Director
Photographer unknown

We all know that unions are the backbone of the American middle class and that workers who do not enjoy a unionized workplace often suffer more abuses, get paid less, and have fewer protections.

Even where they don’t have a union, workers can take action together to improve their working situations, and those actions are usually protected. At NWJP, we have recently seen each of the following situations serve as a catalyst for groups of clients to band together and demand changes in their workplace:

  • A verbally abusive supervisor;
  • Relocation of the work site, which led to a longer commute and a longer work day for the same money;
  • An aggressive co-worker;
  • An unfair tip pool;

Whether or not other laws protect workers regarding these issues, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) gives most employees the right to “engage in…concerted activities” for their “mutual aid or protection.” For example, to complain about that supervisor, employees are protected when they get together to schedule and attend a meeting with the general manager. They are also protected when they engage in a group work stoppage to demand a raise to help offset the loss of time commuting to the new warehouse.  They are protected when they gather signatures on a letter to the boss regarding the aggressive co-worker. And, they are protected when they meet outside of the workplace with other servers to talk about the way tips are distributed and how to approach the owners about the problems.

In each of these cases, our clients were fired for engaging in the protected activity. To support them, we filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In all of the cases, the NLRB engaged in immediate and extensive investigations into potential violations. NLRB remedies are limited to cease-and-desist orders, notice postings, and reinstatement and back pay if the worker has legal immigration status. However, the process allows for a relatively rapid venue to address attempts to repress organizing efforts and to negotiate a favorable settlement of these and other employment law claims.

3…2…1… Happy new worker protections!!

By Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, NWJP's Deputy Director.
Photo by Sanja Gjenero, Freeimages.com

Our advocacy work with the Coalition to Stop Wage Theft and in the Fair Shot for All Coalition helped Oregon ring in the New Year with some important new protections for low-wage workers!

Here is a quick overview of the changes:

RIGHT TO SICK LEAVE

Starting this year, workers across Oregon will have a right to accrue sick leave. Those who work for an employer with 10 or more employees (or six or more in Portland) must receive paid sick leave. Workers will accrue at least one hour of sick time for every 30 hours of work, up to a total of 40 hours a year. In this day and age, it's amazing that we're celebrating a legislative victory about simple human dignity, but for the thousands of Oregonians who couldn't afford to stay home to rest and recover from an illness before, it's a big deal. This new protection will ensure that workers do not have to choose between their health — or the health of their children or their co-workers — and their livelihood.

WAGE TRANSPARENCY

Keeping workers from discussing their salaries with co-workers was a powerful way to keep wage inequality alive. In an effort to achieve equal pay for equal work, however, workers are now protected from retaliation if they discuss their wages or the wages of their co-workers. And workers can now sue in Oregon courts to protect this right, which will allow them to better identify discrimination in pay.

PROTECTIONS FOR WORKERS WITH PRIOR CONVICTIONS

People with criminal histories, often members of the most vulnerable populations (people of color, those who cannot afford proper representation, those with mental illness or addictions to drugs and alcohol, among others), face unfair barriers to employment even after they have already served their time.  Even where workers have turned their lives around, it is often impossible to find work. This results in a growing subclass of workers who are subject to exploitation and poverty. Oregon has taken an important first step in protecting workers with criminal conviction histories from unfair job discrimination in hiring. It is now illegal to require an applicant to disclose a criminal conviction on an employment application or prior to an initial interview.

NEW PROTECTIONS FOR DOMESTIC WORKERS

In recognition of the hard work and often grueling conditions that domestic workers face, an array of new protections have gone into effect in the New Year. Housekeepers and in-home child care providers will now be entitled to overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week (or 44 if they live in the home). They also will be entitled to 24 consecutive hours of rest each week and must receive eight hours of uninterrupted sleep to be considered off-the-clock. If they work at least an average of 30 hours a week, they are entitled to receive three paid personal leave days a year. They are now also protected from discriminatory harassment and from confiscation of their passports if they are immigrant workers.