Two NWJP clients recently resolved their case against a food processing facility in the Willamette Valley. Juana and Lena* both worked for over a decade preparing food and checking its quality at this processor. By accident, they became aware of a secret and improper relationship between a government safety inspector and a lead quality assurance worker at their plant. When they reported the relationship to their employer, due to their concern that the quality of the food produced could be impacted by the relationship, one worker was fired and the other felt forced to quit. These women fought their terminations in state court, resolving the litigation and bringing about positive workplace changes through their efforts.
NWJP believes strongly in the rights of workers to act as whistleblowers and to be free from retaliation for doing what they believe is right!
In the next few weeks, hundreds of thousands of agricultural workers will be leaving Mexico and Central America to come north to hand harvest the fruits and vegetables destined for our tables. The huge role they play in our vital food chain and in sustaining a critical industry generating billions of dollars per year is so central to life and the economy in the United States that, along with nurses and doctors, first responders and ambulance drivers, they have been designated as essential workers who are not subject to the work and travel restrictions affecting most other workers.
They will travel north for 30 or 40 hours, crowded close together on cramped buses, to be deposited in labor camps. If the camp conditions comply with law, they may sleep in dormitory-style bunk beds no more than three feet apart. Commonly, in my experience, those camps are overcrowded, and two workers may have to share a single bunk. Often workers will be taken in overcrowded buses to the fields each day and to stores on the weekends to buy food. Cooking facilities are shared, and quite rudimentary. The jobs farm workers do often require them to work in close proximity to other workers. Hand washing and sanitary facilities are very limited, and often far from where workers are laboring. Days beginning in the very early morning, and long, exhausting hours of work are not particularly conducive to disease resistance.
While daily life of a farm worker is mostly segregated from the rest of the community, interaction with permanent farm staff and the need to buy food and other necessities will bring workers into contact with others, exposing them to the pandemic spreading through the United States.
Coming from isolated communities, workers may have little information about COVID-19 or how to protect themselves. Access to health care may be impossible. Fear of firing will make workers extremely reluctant to miss work due to feeling sick, or to complain of symptoms. Even having a place to isolate oneself to avoid infecting co-workers will often be impossible. Although we have created important relief programs for other workers who become ill or are otherwise hurt by the COVID crisis, most farm workers are not even eligible for those programs or even for subsidized health insurance for medical treatment.
Worker advocates have appealed to the federal agencies responsible for regulating temporary worker programs to adopt emergency rules to address this impending public health disaster—so far, to no avail. Oregon OSHA has been pressed for temporary rules to address this situation, but is only considering whether to initiate a rule-making procedure.
But the buses are already rolling, now. Rolling to a foreseeable, tragic and unworthy debacle. Workers who are heroically performing work that is so essential to the community deserve better.
These are extraordinary times. This is just one example of the extraordinary hazards that low wage workers are imminently confronting. As a community we face awesome challenges. Even though we are dislocated, disrupted, working at home--communicating by Zoom--every one of us has a responsibility to reach deep to find what we can do to help. Lives are at stake.
NWJP staff is working overtime to do everything we can to advocate for safe, healthful and fair working and living conditions for those workers who are required to keep working in spite of the risks. Please join us, in whatever ways you can in your realm of possibility. Write to your governmental representatives, demand better of public enforcement and support agencies, donate to farm worker clinics, help with food banks, make face masks. Please do whatever you can.
(A partir del 21 de diciembre de 2020)
El estado de Oregon tiene nuevas protecciones mas fuertes para ciertos inquilinos. Para chequear si califica para esta proteccion de desalojo mas fuerte, haga clic aqui o llame a la Alianza Comunitaria de Inquilinos al 503-288-0130 (Martes 6-7 PM y Sabados 1-2 PM).
El condado de Multnomah tambien ha extendido la moratoria de desalojo hasta a lo minimo el 2 de julio de 2021. Revise este folleto para aprender como escribir a su arrendador para usar el periodo de gracia.
Tiempo de Enfermedad y Permiso Familiar para COVID-19
(Updates as of December 21, 2020)
The state of Oregon has new and stronger protections for certain renters. To see if you qualify for this stronger eviction protection, click here or call Community Alliance of Tenants at 503-288-0130 (Tuesdays 6-7 PM and Saturdays 1-2 PM).
Multnomah County has also extended the eviction moratorium until at least July 2, 2021. Check out this flyer to find out how to write your landlord to use the grace period.
Over the last several sessions of the legislature, advocates for low wage workers have had extraordinary success in expanding the legal rights of workers, having passed paid sick leave, fair scheduling, a substantial increase in the minimum wage, paid family and medical leave and stronger discrimination protections. These successes are remarkable, and a credit to legislative and grass roots champions alike. We are leaders in the country in establishing workers’ rights.
It has, however, been far more challenging to create effective remedies to enforce these, and other, longer established, workers’ rights. Partly, this is because the business lobbies have vehemently opposed creating effective private rights of action to put enforcement in the hands of workers, themselves. Too often, the legislature has acceded to this pressure. But even where workers have a right to take employers who violate rights to court, they face enormous difficulty in doing so. We haven’t nearly enough lawyers who are willing and able to take on these cases, and employers are often choosing to organize themselves in ways that make actual collection of damages very difficult. This, in turn, makes it even harder to get a lawyer to take one’s case.
When unable to bring their own enforcement actions, workers must rely on help from public enforcement agencies that are woefully underfunded. For example, if BOLI’s enforcement resources were doubled, this would only put the agency at about the firepower it enjoyed in the 1993-95 biennium, the earliest year for which data is available. (Even BOLI’s 1993-95 staffing level was not the high water mark for the state’s wage enforcement capacity: Over a decade of budget cuts had already pummeled the agency. In 1981, 30 employees were cut from the bureau, and in the 1991-93 biennium, lawmakers let go 20 percent of the agency’s remaining staff.) In the years since, BOLI has been charged with enforcing important new laws mandating licensing labor contractors in construction and janitorial industries, pay equity, sick leave and fair scheduling, with no corresponding increase in enforcement resources. This has forced BOLI to limit the kinds of claims it is able to process. See www.ocpp.org/2019/03/28/boli-capacity-fight-wage-theft-eroded/.
Further, at the federal level the rapidly expanding use of forced arbitration and class action bans also is interfering with the ability of workers to receive the benefits of legal rights enshrined in the law. An employer need only stick fine print in its employment application that submits any disputes to forced arbitration, and forbids participation in a class or collective action. Workers often do not even see these provisions, or, because they desperately need work, ignore them. In recent years the United States Supreme Court has virtually closed the courthouse doors to workers’ claims that are subject to such provisions. A recent national study found that 24 million private-sector non-union workers in the United States earning less than $13 per hour were subject to forced arbitration in 2019. Forced arbitration allowed employers to steal $12.6 billion in wages from private-sector non-union workers earning less than $13 an hour who are subject to forced arbitration. See www.nelp.org/publication/forced-arbitration-cost-workers-in-low-paid-jobs-12-6-billion-in-stolen-wages-in-2019/.
Low wage workers find themselves at a crisis point in terms of being able to enforce rights enacted to protect them. In the end, “rights” without remedies are a cruel hoax; they are not real rights at all. At NWJP, we focus on achieving what we’ve begun to call “lived” justice. Lived justice happens when workers actually experience a remedy for the unfairness they encounter in the workplace. In the place of hollow, theoretical, rights, lived justice contemplates the availability of real, tangible, accessible and effective remedies to enforce those rights.
The mechanics of how to overcome obstacles to workers finding a remedy aren’t as flashy as carving out whole new protections, and can get a little wonky. But if workers are to truly benefit from the rights they have, or new rights we can create—if they are to live that justice—we all must give more attention to ensuring that adequate remedies are available to them.
Thanks to all of our generous supporters, our big event was not only a success in terms of the fabulous program, but we also hit our fundraising goal!
Despite a last minute scramble to a new room because of water sprinkler damage, the event came off without a hitch. Over 120 people packed into the basement room at the 1st Unitarian Church to enjoy some delicious food, hear some great music from Nabila Ayad, hear presentations from NWJP leaders and the UFW’s Diana Tellefson Torres, and watch this powerful video. Lastly, we were thrilled to present one of our dearest friends with the Tribune of Worker Justice award: Ramon Ramirez (photo) for his long-standing, unflinching leadership for farmworkers and immigrants both in Oregon and nationally through his organizing, legislative and political advocacy, and mentoring of new generations of leaders. Thank you, Ramon!
We are delighted to recognize Tricia Smith as Tribune of Worker Justice for her long and relentless advocacy to improve conditions for Oregon’s low-wage workers and their families. Tricia has spent her professional life as a champion for working class people, speaking truth to power and giving voice to the silenced.
Tricia grew up in a small, blue-collar town in Northern California, where she learned firsthand the struggles of working class families. She made Salem her home in the 1970s, working in a series of blue-collar jobs and for a decade as a state employee. As a neighborhood activist, she served on the Salem City Council in the late 1980s prior to her recruitment into the legislature.
In 1990, she was elected to the Oregon Senate where she led the effort to create the Oregon Women’s Health and Wellness Alliance, a bipartisan policy advocacy group that continues to this day. Working together, the Alliance passed a seminal legislative package to address domestic violence and women’s economic issues, which included more successful bills addressing women’s issues than had ever been passed in any legislative session in Oregon. During the 1991 session, Tricia also supported measures to provide funding for construction of quality farmworker housing and strengthen regulation of farm labor contractors and on-farm labor housing.
In the 1993 session, Tricia became the Chair of the Senate Labor Committee. She helped to usher passage of the Oregon Family Leave Act, and fought hard in an ultimately unsuccessful campaign to extend Unemployment Insurance eligibility to farm workers.
In recognition of her efforts, in 1993, the Oregon Commission on Women honored her work with its Oregon Women of Achievement Award for significantly improving the lives of women in Oregon. She is in good company. This prestigious award has been shared by the likes of Governor Barbara Roberts, Mayor Vera Katz, Justice Betty Roberts, Governor Kate Brown, Senators Avel Gordley and Susan Castillo, and other outstanding Oregon leaders.
From 1996 through 2016, Tricia served Oregon workers as Government Relations Specialist for the Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA), fighting for the interests of Oregon’s school bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers, and other classified employees who help care for our children at school. Through OSEA’s political program, Tricia was at the center of successful campaigns to raise the Oregon minimum wage. She won and defended policies to guarantee student transportation so that all working families had a way to get their children to school. Year after year, she has fought on the frontlines of the constant, bitter struggle to defend collective bargaining, especially for OSEA’s working class membership. First on the list of cuts in tight times, these workers could rely on Tricia to battle for resources and combat out-sourcing that fails to honor the value these proud workers bring to a school. Tricia has fiercely insisted that decision-makers consider that value.
As a legislator and lobbyist, Tricia has always been a valuable source of wisdom and support to advocates for low-wage workers, both of which she shared generously. When NWJP was formed in 2002, Tricia Smith was one of three founders—along with Larry Kleinman and Michael Dale—listed in its Articles of Incorporation, and she has served as a thoughtful board member and passionate champion of NWJP ever since. A dependable ally in our legislative campaigns, teaching a succession of NWJP lobbyists the ropes, and helping to draw together the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft, Tricia has been a truly indispensable part of our legislative efforts for more than a decade.
[pullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""] Thank you, Tricia, for your many years of service to working families, for your stalwart leadership of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, and for making our state a better place to live for all of us. [/pullquote]
By Lindsay Jonasson, Interim Program Administrator
We had the pleasure of hosting Eduardo Herrera as a law clerk back in 2012 and caught up with him last month to see where his career has led. After graduation, Eduardo started his own immigration and criminal defense firm in Gresham, Oregon to help meet the need for high-quality services for low-income, immigrant, and Spanish-speaking clients and their families. Looking back, he remembers his experiences at NWJP as particularly formative: “I credit my time at NWJP for helping me discover my passion and purpose of serving vulnerable communities and for that I will always be grateful.”
Born and raised in a working class neighborhood in Pasadena, California by immigrant parents, Eduardo was the first member of his family (and neighborhood) to go to college. He majored in History with a minor in Education at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) before spending several years as a middle school teacher. He later earned his JD at Lewis & Clark Law School, which is when his path first crossed with NWJP. He is now a partner at the firm he helped to found, Northwest Immigration & Criminal Defense LLP.
Congratulations, Eduardo, on your successful law practice and commitment to serving low-wage workers!
[pullquote align="full" cite="" link="" color="" class="" size=""]“I credit my time at NWJP for helping me discover my passion and purpose of serving vulnerable communities and for that I will always be grateful.”
- Eduardo Herrera[/pullquote]
Part of NWJP's mission is to help increase the availability of legal assistance for low-wage, immigrant, and contingent workers. One strategy to do this is to work with law students to develop skills and interest in doing this work.
By Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, NWJP Deputy Director
This April, NWJP celebrated 9 years of organizing the Low Wage Worker Legal Network (LWWLN) by hosting its monthly nationwide training call. With 375 members from 135 organizations and 30 private law firms from 34 states, DC and Mexico, LWWLN connects low-wage and contingent worker advocates across the country to facilitate joint training and spark coordinated policy advocacy.
For example, the April training session featured best practices for transferring money to clients in Mexico and was presented by Global Workers Justice Alliance, Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, and Immigrant Justice Clinic at American University Washington College of Law. Finding secure, ethical, and cost-effective ways of transferring money to foreign countries is critical for advocates representing immigrant workers, but the issue is rarely (if ever) addressed by traditional continuing legal education.
Our June training call (next Wednesday, June 1st) will focus on trauma-informed care and considerations for interviewing and supporting our clients who have experienced sexual harassment and assault in employment. Mónica Ramírez, Director of Gender Equity and Advocacy at National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, and Kimber Nicoletti, Director and Founder of Multicultural Efforts to End Sexual Assault at Purdue University, will be with us to talk about these important issues.
LWWLN was founded to help improve access to justice for low-wage workers by uniting attorneys and advocates in a variety of programs and projects nationwide around workers’ rights issues. Members of LWWLN generally come from small nonprofit workers’ rights organizations, small firms, and solo practices. All represent solely workers in employment matters. By coming together regularly, LWWLN members help each other improve legal skills, support each other in the challenges of these types of cases, and stay on the cutting edge of relevant legal theories and methods.
April’s training was just one of nearly 80 monthly training calls that LWWLN has held over the years. In these one-hour sessions, national experts offer advocates cutting-edge and essential legal tools for representing our most vulnerable workers. In addition, connections through LWWLN have helped catalyze workgroups to address national legal and policy challenges that individual organizations or firms may not otherwise have the resources to tackle alone.
One example covered regularly in NWJP’s newsletters is the H-2B foreign temporary worker visa workgroup. Through an extensive multi-year strategy of litigation and policy advocacy, the workgroup beat back Bush-era regulations that allowed H-2B employers to hire temporary foreign workers at wages far lower than the wages received by their U.S. counterparts and reduced the exploitation of both temporary foreign workers and the U.S. workers who are often displaced. A workgroup on J-1 exchange visitor visas works to stop the exploitation of workers who come to the U.S. on this visa program, supposedly for educational and cultural exchange purposes, but often find themselves entrapped in exploitive employment situations. And, a workgroup on wage judgments works to strengthen collection laws across the country for low wage workers who have won their cases but have difficulty collecting their judgments.
If you are interested in becoming a member of LWWLN or have an expertise that you would like to share, please contact Corinna Spencer-Scheurich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members also have access to a resource bank of recordings and resources from past training calls.