All posts by Chris Ferlazzo

NWJP Summer Clerks and Lawyers

NWJP could not function without our fabulous volunteers and law clerks.  Currently, we are grateful to have support from law clerks Nathaniel Belachew, Christina Sailler, Jessica Gutierrez, and Sarah Osborn.  We also have two lawyers assisting us right now: Kabita Parajuli and Trent Taylor.

This is a uniquely challenging time to be a law clerk or volunteer lawyer, but this team has adapted amazingly well, and has been a huge help.

Nathaniel Belachew (he/him/his)

Hi! My name is Nathaniel Belachew and I'm entering my third year at Willamette University College of Law. My primary interests while enrolled at law school have been employment law, immigration law, and constitutional law. My hobbies outside of law school include hiking, cooking, and going to concerts. I'm very excited to be a part of the Northwest Workers' Justice Project as a law clerk.

Christina Sailler (they/them/their)

Christina Sailler just completed their first year at the University of Oregon School of Law, and they are
excited to be back home in Portland, Oregon to join the team at NWJP.  Prior to law school, Christina worked in organized labor with the Oregon Nurses Association and they are looking forward to continuing to advocate workers' rights as a summer law clerk with NWJP.

Jessica Guttierez (she/her/hers)

I am a rising 3L at Lewis & Clark Law School. I was born and raised in Dallas, TX by immigrant parents. My experience as a child of immigrants has led me to focus on immigrant rights. I am excited to be part of NWJP for the summer because I know they are committed to providing legal support to immigrant communities facing discrimination.

 

 

Sarah Osborn (she/her/hers)

Sarah Osborn is a returning law clerk for NWJP and an incoming third-year student at Oregon Law. She is passionate about workers' rights and wants to practice plaintiff-side litigation after law school. In her education, she has been involved in promoting fair access to justice for LGBTQ individuals and taking coursework in civil rights, labor law, and alternative dispute resolution strategies. Her favorite things to do when she's not a law student are hiking with her two dogs and practicing yoga.

Kabita Parajuli (she/her/hers)

Kabita Parajuli moved to Portland from California, where she completed her law degree as a member of UCLA Law School's Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. She is a fellow at Jobs With Justice Portland and the Harvard Law School Clean Slate Program, an effort to reshape labor law. She is interested in the law as a way to support social movement work for racial and economic justice.

Trent Taylor (he/him/his)

Trent Taylor is a volunteer attorney who began volunteering as an attorney with NWJP last month.  Trent is a well experienced attorney with nearly ten years of litigation experience.  Over his career, he has concentrated his practice on representing low-income workers in wage and hour and employment discrimination litigation.  In addition, Trent has considerable experience in representing unions and their constituents in arbitrations and contract negotiations. He is licensed to practice in the states of Oregon, Ohio, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri.  He has also appeared as counsel before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. and Sixth Circuits

Along his professional work, Trent has been active in organizing and contributing to different workers centers. While in Louisville, Kentucky, Trent co-founded Service Workers for Justice, an advocacy and resource group for restaurant employees. While in Columbus, Ohio, he co-founded and served as a board member for the Central Ohio Workers Center.  In recognition of these and other related efforts, Trent was named the 2019 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year by the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center. He is fluent in Spanish and highly proficient in Arabic.  In his free time, he enjoys listening to music and watching his hometown St. Louis Cardinals.

NWJP wins important court decision implementing new law in construction

A chronic problem in the construction industry in Oregon has been the use of “labor contractors” to recruit workers for tasks like roofing, framing, drywall and painting. These recruited workers are typically misclassified as employees of the labor recruiter, not the construction contractor. This allows the construction contractor to avoid liability for paying the wages of those workers who make their project possible. The labor recruiter often doesn’t have enough money to pay wages, and historically, it was extremely difficult to collect from the construction contractor.

A few years ago, working with our partners in the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft, our clients achieved a major improvement in the law when the legislature applied the Oregon Contractor Registration Act (OCRA) to the construction industry.  OCRA requires that construction contractors only use labor recruiters who are licensed by BOLI and have posted a bond to guarantee payment of wages. Under this law, it is the responsibility of the construction contractor to check licensing and only hire reputable subcontractors to recruit their work force.  If they don’t check the license, construction contractors are explicitly liable for any wages and statutory damages owed to the workers.

Most construction companies have seemed to be either unaware of OCRA or ignoring their obligations under it.

In March, NWJP clients won an important ruling in federal court on OCRA claims.  The case involved five roofers who were not paid for a number of weeks of work.  They had demanded their wages from the roofing company as well as from the unlicensed labor recruiter.  Neither entity was willing to pay the full amount of wages owed.  NWJP represented the workers to sue both the labor recruiter and the construction company to collect what they were owed.

Two years after the roofing work was performed, NWJP attorney Kate Suisman successfully argued that the roofing company had failed to find out if the labor recruiter it used was licensed.  In the first written opinion applying OCRA to the construction industry, Judge Michael Simon of the US District Court of Oregon found that the large roofing company was a joint employer of Plaintiffs, had used an unlicensed labor recruiter in violation of OCRA and was therefore liable to the workers for wages and penalty damages.  The ruling in this case shows that construction companies who use unlicensed labor recruiters can be held liable for workers’ wages and substantial penalty wages under OCRA.

In fighting their case, these workers hopefully have gotten the attention of the construction industry, and have established a precedent that will help many workers in the future.

From Michael’s Desk

What an overwhelming time we are living through.

COVID is, in itself, unprecedented in my lifetime. But, I want to talk about the relentlessness of police violence that recent events have so clearly underscored.

Of course, the crisis in the criminal justice system is profound, and demands a profound response from our civil society.  Without making light of the seriousness of what needs to be done to reform our policing system, this moment isn’t just about better police training, supervision or tactics. Nor is it only about holding four errant police officers accountable, setting up citizens review commissions or even about better accountability for all police agencies. These steps probably would help and should be undertaken.

But, the root of this issue is much, much more serious and intractable. What is it that permits a human being to slowly and methodically snuff out the very life’s breath from another human being, apparently not in anger, but nonchalantly, with a hand in one’s pocket? And how can that individual’s colleagues stand by and silently watch, not raising a single objection?

The answer, of course, must be the unreformed racism that allowed our country to be built on slavery, violence, fear and hatred. That racism that lets us see the other, because of difference from ourselves, as somehow inferior or exploitable. To see another’s life as being somehow less worthy of the dignity and respect we’d expect for ourselves.

That virus infects far more than the criminal justice system.

At NWJP, we see it every day in our work.

We see the nonchalant indifference of a Derek Chauvin in employers who are willing to steal the wages of vulnerable, marginalized workers, dehumanize them, treat them like disposable pieces of machinery, threatening or firing those who dare to speak up.  While this may not literally extinguish the very lives of those workers, still, in the draining away of hopes and dreams for a better life, no matter how hard one works, the joys of living just as surely die.  Too often, it is this same strain of racism, whether overt or implicit, that allows this to happen. And rather than step in, take risks and perhaps even pay a personal price to stop or remedy this abuse, other workers, supervisors, regulators, judges or jurors, too often choose to look away.  They may justify their silent complicity because they allow their differences from the “other” to deny the victims’ common shared humanity and legitimate entitlement to fair treatment.

It is time to end this stain.  Because of the other crises we face, it is a hard time to take this on. But it is time. Yes, time to adopt meaningful and effective criminal justice reform. But we cannot stop there.  We must do the hard work to confront the structural racism and implicit bias that prevent us from reaching our ideals in the work place and as a community.

It is past time.

NEW Videos on Workers’ Rights During the Pandemic

Northwest Workers' Justice Project has teamed up with our friends at Centro de Servicios para Campesinos and PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste) to help spread information on workers' rights during these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic. These educational videos cover topics such as health and safety rules, Oregon and federal sick leave law, protections under new emergency sick leave and medical leave, and the expanded unemployment benefits enacted through the recently passed federal stimulus package.

El Proyecto de Justicia para Trabajadores del Noroeste ha juntado con nuestros amigos en el Centro de Servicios para Campesinos y PCUN para difundir información sobre los derechos de trabajadores durante esos tiempos inciertos de la pandemia de COVID-19. Esos videos cubren temas de las reglas de salud y seguridad, la ley del permiso de enfermedad federal y de Oregon, protecciones de emergencia del permiso de enfermedad y el permiso médico, y los beneficios de desempleo ampliados que fueron promulgados por el paquete de estímulo recién aprobado.

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Oregon’s Unions, Workers’ Rights Groups Demand Safe Return to Work Policies as Oregon Reopens

For Immediate Release: May 27, 2020

 Contact:

Kate Suisman

Northwest Workers’ Justice Project

646-942-6659 (cell)

kate@nwjp.org

 

Oregon’s Unions, Workers’ Rights Groups Demand Safe Return to Work Policies as Oregon Reopens

A coalition of groups sent a detailed letter yesterday to all members of the Oregon House, Senate and the Governor’s Office urging immediate action to protect workers as the state reopens.

The letter, which was written by Safe Jobs Oregon, a coalition of organized labor, community groups, legal organizations and others, demands four immediate policy changes to keep workers safe:

  1. Statewide, enforceable COVID-19 workplace standards
  2. A workers’ compensation workplace presumption for all workers with COVID-19.
  3. Additional whistleblower protections to protect workers’ ability to report hazardous conditions.
  4. A remedy of the deficiencies in Oregon’s unemployment insurance, sick and family leave laws.

 The attached letter was sent by Oregon AFL-CIO, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, Portland Jobs with Justice, Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, Oregon Center for Public Policy, Safe Jobs Oregon, Causa and Service Employees International Union Locals 49 and 503.

 NWJP is a non-profit law firm that represents low-wage workers in employment matters and advocates for stronger, worker-centered policy changes on a local and national level.

Safe Return to Work letter May 2020

We Love Our Law Clerks and Volunteers!

NWJP could not function without our fabulous volunteers and law clerks.  Currently, we are grateful to have support from Alec Finnell, Jennifer Reeger, Lola Loustaunau, and Kabita Parajuli. Despite the fact that our office is mostly closed, these folks are still working away with ongoing litigation efforts and have been incredibly helpful. Thanks team!

Alec Finnell was born and raised in Bakersfield, CA, and earned his BA in German Studies and paralegal certificate at UC Irvine (including a formative year abroad at Humboldt University, Berlin). He and his partner moved to Portland in 2016, drawn to its unique political culture and readily available vegetarian cuisine. Alec was drawn to the legal field through his passion for workers rights and labor movements, and works full-time as a Practice Assistant at Stoll Berne.

 

Jennifer Reeger: I’m currently a 3L at University of Oregon School of Law in the Portland Program. I graduate in less than 75 days, but who’s counting?! I plan to use my degree to serve underprivileged communities in the Pacific Northwest. I came to law school after spending some time volunteering with an anti-trafficking organization in Seattle. Originally hailing from Texas, I sometimes wear cowboy boots, and I’d wage all my money (remember - I’ve been in law school for 3 years, and my experience mostly includes volunteering at non-profits) on the superiority of breakfast tacos over breakfast burritos.

NWJP has been a great opportunity to get out of the classroom and learn about labor and employment law in a more direct manner. The team is supportive and welcoming, and I’m trying to figure out how I can convince them all to stay friends with me when my externship ends. I’ve had a great experience with a variety of work; however, most of the cases I work on are wage claims or workers’ compensation retaliation.

Lola Loustaunau grew up in Argentina and completed her BA in Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires in 2011. She worked for Argentina's federal government as a public policy analyst before moving to the United States in 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology at the University of Oregon. She worked as a research assistant for the Labor Education and Research Center at UO (2017-2019) and was a VP at Large for AFT-OR (2017-2019). Her current research focuses on working conditions among migrant women workers in the food sector, and their forms of individual and collective organization, particularly through legal claims.

Holding County Contractors Accountable

Danya Moodabagil is one of our fabulous paralegals. She also acts as a volunteer for the Multnomah County’s Labor Compliance Program (LCP). Still in its pilot phase, the LCP was launched in 2019 and was modeled on a program at the Los Angeles Unified School District. This program will be a way to ensure that contractors on County construction projects are in compliance with all labor and wage requirements.

Wage theft and wage and hour violations are especially prevalent in the construction industry. Due to numerous accounts of these violations on the part of contractors in Multnomah County, the Labor Compliance Program is the county and community’s response to defending workers’ rights to a prevailing wage.

The LCP team will be staffed by a Labor Compliance Officer and up to 10 community volunteers. Teamed up in pairs, volunteers will interview workers and inspect the site for key violations. While volunteers do not act to directly enforce labor compliance, their job is to verify that all county employed contractors are following the prevailing wage laws and wage and hour laws when paying their workers and ensuring that all construction sites are in compliance. All forms and reports are submitted to the Labor Compliance Officer, who will then forward non-compliance reports on to the Bureau of Labor and Industry. After completing training and orientation, Danya received her first county site visit request last month, and she will be conducting many more visits throughout the year.

The Labor Compliance Program hopes to prove the necessity of this work and that guaranteeing labor compliance on all County projects will ensure better protections for our local construction workers!

Big Win for Local Whistleblowers

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!

From Michael’s desk: “You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom.”

You can’t pick strawberries over Zoom.”[1]

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.

It will take all of us to get through this.

 

 

 

[1] Farm worker advocate Lucas Zucker. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-04-01/california-farmworkers-coronavirus

 

Recursos para los trabajadores durante la crisis del coronavirus COVID-19

Mientras que NWJP sigue tomando llamadas y preguntas de la comunidad, los siguientes recursos pueden contestar preguntas urgentes de trabajadores en Oregon.

Tiempo de Enfermedad y Permiso Familiar para COVID-19

VIDEOS:

OregonLawHelp.org:

Departamento de Labor de los EE.UU.:

Agencia de Labor e Industria de OR:

National Partnership for Women and Children:

______________________________________________________
Salud y Seguridad en el Lugar de Trabajo para COVID-19

VIDEO:

Administración de Seguridad y Salud Laboral de los EE.UU. (OSHA):

Centro para el Control y la Prevención de Enfermedades:

Información Adicional en Español:

Consejo de Seguridad y Salud Laboral:

____________________________________________________
Derechos de Discapacidad durante COVID-19

Comisión de Oportunidad Igual de los EE.UU.:

Agencia de Labor e Industria de OR:

Derechos de Discapacidad de Oregon:

Sistema de Acomodación de Empleo:

_____________________________________________________

Seguro de Desempleo por el COVID-19

VIDEO:

Legal Aid Services of Oregon

Departamento de Empleo de Oregon:

Oregon Law Center:

Causa:

____________________________________________________

Derechos de Hora y Sueldo durante COVID-19

Agencia de Labor e Industria de Oregon:

____________________________________________________

Recursos Adicionales para Trabajadores

Dos Materiales en Español:

  • Informacion para Campesinos: Sus Derechos y Como Protegerse

Otros: