All posts by Cynthia Carvajal

Where does it hurt? If you’re one of Oregon’s injured workers, everywhere

by Violeta Rubiani, NWJP Program Administrator
Photo by Violeta Rubiani

If you got hurt at work today, would you know what your workers' comp rights are or what you’re supposed to do to file a claim?

If you answered no to that question, you’re not unlike the more than 20,000* Oregon workers who find themselves in that very spot each year. Hurt, scared and staring  at real and  long-term financial threats, many workers also face retaliation for reporting injuries, are shamed by employers and shunned by co-workers, or are steered to employer-friendly health practitioners who may not have the workers’ best interest at heart.

Even when a claim is accepted, an injury can disrupt a worker’s life in many ways: the worker may be required to attend time-consuming medical appointments and evaluations; she may not receive her full salary while on temporary partial or total disability (TPD or TTD in workers’ comp lingo); or a worker who is undocumented may face termination and may not be entitled to full compensation if his injury is permanently disabling.

For years now, NWJP has borne witness to the ways in which the workers’ compensation system fails the most vulnerable workers in Oregon – immigrants, non-English speakers, and contingent and low-wage workers.

That’s why this year, with $10,000 in seed funding from the Doug Swanson Memorial Fund (named after dedicated workers’ comp leader, Douglas A. Swanson), NWJP is launching the Injured Workers’ Project after many months of investigation, preparation and planning.

The project will be based in the Willamette Valley, and will have four key components:

  • In collaboration with the Oregon AFL-CIO, NWJP will organize a Coalition (or Committee) for Occupational Safety and Health (known as COSH) to advocate for enhanced occupational health and safety standards and procedures, particularly those affecting low-wage, immigrant and contingent workers;
  • NWJP will develop a pilot program to measure whether culturally appropriate job safety training conducted by low-wage, immigrant and contingent workers to their peers is effective in reducing on-the-job injuries among these workers. The pilot will likely start out in agriculture and construction.
  • NWJP will offer Know-Your-Rights training to workers in the areas of workers’ compensation benefits and procedures for accessing and navigating the system;
  • NWJP will conduct an in-depth assessment of Oregon’s workers’ compensation system and why it’s currently failing immigrant and contingent workers, and propose solutions that will ensure all workers have access to the system and receive the benefits they deserve and to which they are entitled.

At NWJP, we are beyond excited about this project and are looking forward to joining forces with community partners, unions, and workers to address the many inequities keeping low-wage, contingent, and immigrant workers in physical and financial pain.

* Source: Dept. of Consumer & Business Services

2015 Annual Event

Come celebrate with us and support Oregon's low-wage, immigrant and contingent workers!

Third Annual Celebration of Worker Justice
October 1, 2015
5:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The Eliot Center
1226 SW Salmon St.
Portland, OR 97205


Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project (NELP). Having recently co-authored a report on the subject, she will talk about how the new "gig economy" -- represented by companies like Uber, Lyft, Handy, and others -- is undermining basic worker protections, and what can be done about it.

Our award recipient this year is Midge Purcell, former Director of Policy & Advocacy at the Urban League of Portland for her long-time advocacy for job equity and for her tireless efforts to win Ban the Box protections for those re-entering the workforce after incarceration.

Midge has recently returned to her native U.K., but we are honored to have Urban League's President and CEO, Nkenge Harmon Johnson receive the award on Midge's behalf.

Award-winning chef Phil Oswalt will be preparing a fantastic dinner for us, and we'll have live music by a local artist, Oregon wines and microbrews at our no-host bar, and the opportunity to bid on great items -- all going support our work and Oregon low-wage workers!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

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NWJP in interview with Portland’s KGW

Oscar Urrutia owes several state agencies and workers thousands of dollars and has failed to perform the job he promised many clients. And yet keeps working.

NWJP Executive Director Michael Dale and client Selso Sarabia were interviewed for a televised investigation into the shoddy work and wage thievery of Oscar Urrutia, a Portland-area contractor who refuses to pay regulatory fines, penalties, judgments, orders, or his employees' wages.

Click on the picture to see the KGW piece.



Ban the Box and Wage Theft

by Mark Hansen, NWJP Staff Attorney

Ban the Box is an ongoing campaign in cities and states around the country pushing for the removal of the “Have you ever been convicted of a crime?” question from employment applications. In 2007, Oregon’s Multnomah County removed the question from its job applications. Portland went one step further last July, removing criminal background check language from applications for certain jobs with the city, and joining the rapidly increasing number of cities and counties that have already adopted Ban the Box policies.

What does NWJP have to do with the Ban the Box movement and why would we support it? We’re glad you asked.

Our clients—immigrant, low-wage, contingent workers—are systematically and routinely exploited, discriminated against, and robbed of their wages. This happens because of outdated and unjust institutional structures and an economic system that views these workers as “disposable.” But it also happens because of the circumstances in which these workers find themselves: they are limited in their ability to find work, ignorant of their rights, and so desperate to earn a livelihood, they often work for months without asserting their rights, hoping their bosses will come through at some point.

Individuals returning to their communities after serving a prison sentence face similar difficulties. Trying to find employment with a criminal record is nearly impossible, and “checking the box” is a significant barrier to employment and to workers’ successful re-entry into society.

Like our other clients, those with a criminal record are eager to find work, so they will take the jobs everyone else would run from—the same unsafe, low paying, temporary, and risky jobs we see our immigrant and low-wage clients take. Also like our clients, once in those jobs, people with records are likely to be exploited and taken advantage of.

You see where we are going: people with records are becoming yet another “underclass,” a group of people who is unjustly targeted for abuse. Because these individuals don’t have many choices when it comes to employment, they are less likely to report unlawful employment practices including wage theft, discrimination, and unhealthy or unsafe working conditions. Many may also be unaware of the workplace protections the law provides. Instead, feeling lucky to have found a job at all, they fear losing it and remain silent.

Advocates know, however, that there are valid concerns regarding the employment of individuals with records. In Oregon, laws already in place prevent individuals with certain criminal histories from working with vulnerable populations or in finance, or have access to sensitive, personal information. Ban the Box is not seeking to repeal these laws, but wants to ensure that individuals—who previously had no chance of even receiving a call-back—get an opportunity to make it to the interview stage and to explain why they are now good candidates for employment.

The stigma associated with having broken the law is difficult to ignore, especially at the initial stages of job applicant screening, and it affects minority and low-income applicants disproportionately. This is why proponents of banning the box believe that removing the conviction question will ensure a larger and more diverse candidate pool and will connect employers with a wider selection of qualified employees.

Many of the Ban the Box campaigns, including the one in Oregon, agree that employers should have the right to require a background check prior to employment. However, they say, a background check should be the last step, not the first. This encourages employers to select the most qualified candidates for the job, allows the prospective candidate to be judged on the basis of qualifications alone, and gives both parties the opportunity to openly talk about questions that may come up. Advocates want employers to set the Box aside, and make employment decisions based on real impressions, not stigma or misperceptions.

For a person with a record, re-entry into the community is already difficult. Keeping people with records unemployed or employed in poverty-wage jobs is more likely to lead to recidivism. (According to Fair Chance for All, the group that leads the Ban the Box campaign in Portland, people with records who became employed were twice as likely to avoid future legal trouble as those who were unemployed.) Banning the box allows individuals who have made mistakes to move past the debt they’ve already paid society, and gives them a genuine opportunity to start anew. And that’s good for all of us.

For more information about the Ban the Box campaign, please visit Fair Chance for All’s website (, or the National Employment Law Project’s website (


Legal Representation

Our multi-strategy approach to ending workplace abuse doesn't stop at policy advocacy or education. Because workers need all the tools available to recover their stolen wages, we have four on-staff attorneys ready to guide our clients through the process of asserting their federal and state employment rights and the hard-earned protections to which they are entitled.

We help workers in the low-wage sector, especially those who are immigrant and/or temporary. While we strive to take on as many clients as we can, we give preference to cases in  which classes of workers are affected and those whose results will influence public policy.

In addition to our many other accomplishments, in the last 12 years, NWJP has recovered nearly $3 million in lost wages and damages for low-wage workers from all sectors.

For more information about our Legal Representation program or to make an appointment, please contact us.

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Policy Advocacy

The social, economic and environmental justice issues we face today are deeply rooted in oppression, prejudice, and lack of evidence-based approaches to solving problems. Legal strategies, while helpful, aren't sufficient to right the wrongs that are now embedded in our seemingly unmovable power structures.

Understanding that it is vital for workers' well being to have strong laws on their side, we take on policy advocacy efforts at the state and federal levels through our work with the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft and the Low-Wage Worker Legal Network, and our participation and leadership in various state coalitions and campaigns.

In addition to our own policy advocacy efforts, we support state and national campaigns that seek to improve working and economic conditions for workers in Oregon and beyond.

Some of the campaigns and/or groups we currently support are: