Category Archives: Inside NWJP

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!

Welcome Mayra Ledesma!

We are very pleased to announce that we have hired a new staff attorney. Mayra Ledesma is an Oregon native from Hood River.  As the daughter of farm worker parents, Mayra learned at a very young age the injustices that many low-income workers face.  She developed a strong interest in the legal aspect of workers' rights, ultimately inspiring her to attend law school.  She recently graduated from DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, having previously attended Willamette University where she received her BA in Economics and Spanish.  At NWJP, Mayra will initially be focused on litigation. We are delighted to welcome her to our community. ¡Bienvenidos!

Celia Fitzwater Volunteer Spotlight

As we’ve said in past newsletters, NWJP is fortunate to be supported by many talented and dedicated volunteers.  Celia Fitzwater is a retired attorney who spends two days a week helping with casework and research in our office.  Celia graduated from Willamette University College of Law in 1989, and then worked as a law clerk at the Oregon Supreme Court for two years.

Celia Fitzwater, Volunteer Extraordinaire

From 1991-2001, she served as a staff attorney at the Workers’ Compensation Board.  In 2001-2003, she was an Administrative Law Judge for Oregon’s Department of Consumer and Business Services.  She then took some time off to be home with her two sons.  She currently volunteers with NWJP.  Celia’s background in workers’ compensation law has proved very helpful and she is a pleasure to have in the office.

Thank you to Celia and our other incredible volunteers!

NWJP Launches Planned Giving Campaign

We invite you to consider a legacy gift to the Northwest Employment Education and Defense Fund.

The Northwest Employment Education and Defense Fund is NWJP’s sister organization and is a nonprofit under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Our tax identification number is 06-1669649.

The name and address to include in your will or other planned gift is:

Northwest Employment Education and Defense Fund
812 SW Washington, Suite 225
Portland, OR 97205

Please consult your attorney when drawing up or revising your will to ensure your intentions are carried out properly. If you have any questions or need more information, please call us at 503-525-8454 or email chris@nwjp.org.

 

NWJP Fights for Workers on Many Fronts

NWJP recently submitted an amicus or "friend of the court" brief to the United States Supreme Court on behalf of truck drivers and workers' rights organizations in New Prime v. Oliveira, a case dealing with forced arbitration as it applies to truck drivers.  Public Justice, a public interest law firm, had successfully argued in the First Circuit Court of Appeals that truck drivers are not covered by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and could therefore litigate their workplace complaints in court despite having been forced to sign an arbitration agreement.  (NWJP recently opened a clinic to help workers who are forced to arbitrate- see link.)  But the Supreme Court accepted certiorari of the case, meaning the justices agreed to review it next term.

NWJP attorney Kate Suisman, working with Nieves Bolaños of Potter Bolaños, a Chicago firm, wrote a brief supporting the decision of the First Circuit from the point of view of other impacted truck drivers.  The attorneys contacted truck drivers across the country to collect their stories.  Many of these drivers are misclassified as “independent contractors” and therefore don’t receive most of the benefits we associate with employment: job security, overtime premiums, workers’ compensation insurance, unemployment insurance and many others.  Instead, these workers have to buy or lease their own truck and pay all its expenses.  Some truck drivers work full time or more and still can’t afford to pay their rent.

In New Prime v. Oliveira, the trucking company is arguing that its truck drivers are independent contractors, and therefore not covered by the provision in the FAA that says the Act does not apply to “contracts of employment” of certain transportation workers. Kate and Nieves’ brief showed the many ways that the amicus drivers are treated like employees, and the uncertainty and difficulty they face as misclassified workers.

You can read the workers’ stories and the rest of the brief here.  The workers’ stories start on page 26.

Our Summer Law Clerks and Volunteers

NWJP could not function without our fabulous volunteers and law clerks, and this summer, we are pleased to have support from some great people.

Clint Flippin, Isaac Suarez-Nugent, Jessica Luning, and Sophie von Bergen

Sophie von Bergen is from Portland, and just finished her first year at Lewis and Clark Law School. Sophie is interested in using law as a tool for social change after studying the theory of rebellious lawyering at Occidental College. In addition to political science, she studied gender policies and once presented a paper co-authored with her professor at a conference in Sweden.

Volunteer Isaac Suarez-Nugent graduated from Reed in 2016, with a degree in history, and a focus on French and British empire. Isaac was born in Sinaloa, Mexico, and his dad is still there. Isaac thinks that undocumented workers are a really exposed part of the labor economy, and he wants to get some experience in a legal setting to further understand the effects of the Trump administration.

Jessica Luning has been pretty busy lately, as she is currently the coordinator of NLG legal observers, who have been at the ICE occupation 24/7 for the last week. Originally from Long Island, Jessica just finished her first year at Lewis and Clark. Jessica decided on law school after working in non-profits where “as soon as work started to get interesting I had to hand it off to a lawyer.”

Clint Flippin is also at Lewis and Clark law school, but is originally from Memphis.  interested in history, traditional archery, and workers’ rights, after having experienced many abusive employment situations.  Now he wants to change that and wants to practice in a field of law that can have practical implications.  He started out interested in environmental law, but recognized that the federal government has stopped enforcement. “Now,” Clint argues, “the biggest changes will come from an employment law perspective.”

NWJP hosts law clerks year-round, and we love to help mentor law students who are interested in advancing the rights of low-wage, immigrant, and temporary workers. Contact Deputy Director Corinna Spencer-Scheurich at corinna@nwjp.org for more information about how you or someone you know could join us!

15th Anniversary Dinner A Big Success!

Myriam Gilles speaks at celebration

Thanks to everyone for helping make our 15th Anniversary Celebration a huge success! Because of the generosity of our sponsors and donors, ticket buyers, auction donors, and volunteers, we were able to raise over $30,000.  Our keynote speaker was Myriam Gilles, law professor and Vice Dean at Cardozo Law School in Manhattan.  Myriam is a national expert on class actions, and also teaches civil rights and tort law.  At our event, she spoke

passionately about the need for legislation to increase enforcement of workplace rights.    More photos on our Facebook page.

NWJP Launches Worker Safety Training Series

Working in collaboration with the National COSH Network, NWJP applied for and received a grant to provide safety trainings to employees of small businesses.  The grant is targeted to non-literate, low-literacy and limited English proficiency workers, workers in high-hazard industries, temporary workers, and other hard-to-reach workers.

We held our first training on worker safety and health in early June at PCUN, Oregon's farmworker union.  The focus was chemical safety- an issue that affects many low-wage workers.  Twenty five workers spent two hours with NWJP trainers Laura Galindo Palomera and Kate Suisman talking and learning about how to stay safe at work.  The group was very engaged, and many workers stressed the importance of knowing your rights around safety at work.  We talked about the short and long-term impacts of working with dangerous chemicals like cleaning products, pesticides and other substances commonly found at work.  We also talked about ways to bring up concerns about workplace safety, and retaliation protections for speaking up or invoking your rights.

This was the first in a series of trainings NWJP will lead in the coming months