All posts by Chris Ferlazzo

August 2016 – From Michael’s Desk: A Decent Place to Live; a Decent Job

With the skyrocketing cost of living in the Portland area and the shortage of affordable housing units, we’re seeing growing advocacy around issues of affordable housing, protection from eviction, and houselessness resources.  Sadly, all too often, housing champions and worker advocates seem to pass each other by like ships in the night.

Actually, there is a profound relationship in play here.  Many, and perhaps most, of our clients at NWJP are either shelterless themselves, or only one mishap at work away from finding themselves without a place to stay.  When a worker is cheated out of an expected paycheck, it may well be the rent money that’s short in the check.  If the worker complains, and gets fired in retaliation, the time that it takes to find a new job may exhaust any money that a family has been able to save from its very low income, and the kindness of family and friends, as well.  Once more, the street looms.

And, of course, those who don’t have a place to sleep, bathe, receive mail or get a message are at a serious disadvantage in holding or finding a job.

It makes sense for social justice organizations to use their particular skills and knowledge to do the work they have the best capacity to do.  But we need to begin thinking hard about how we could work together to solve these interconnected social justice issues.  One example:  Could a worker with a righteous wage claim that will take a few months to resolve borrow against the value of the claim to be able to pay rent in the meantime?  Do we need to find the means of making these types of loans possible?  Could housing providers help identify and connect families in housing jeopardy due to illegal labor practices with services both to solve work problems and keep the sheriff at bay in the meantime?

Just thinking . . .

 

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

NWJP Launches Efforts to Improve Worker Safety

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Dr. Celeste Monforton speaks at NWJP Celebration. Photo by Doug Yarrow.

In an effort to improve workplace safety for Oregon’s low wage, immigrant workforce, NWJP kicked off a conversation about workplace injuries last month with the help of national expert, Dr. Celeste Monforton. Dr. Monforton, a faculty member at the George Washington University School of Public Health, was in Portland to speak at the NWJP 2016 Celebration of Worker Justice. She shared inspiring stories of successful organizing and action at workplaces across the country which led to safer working conditions.

Prior to her remarks, Dr. Monforton participated in a roundtable discussion with some of the top worker safety advocates in Oregon. Representatives from community organizations, labor unions, faith groups, government, and workers’ compensation law attended the meeting.

Lead by NWJP, the group discussed issues facing workers, the difficulty of preventing injuries in low wage industries, retaliation by employers, and limits of Oregon’s workers’ compensation system. The group met to begin a conversation about improving workers’ safety in Oregon through the establishment of a coalition of safety and health (COSH). COSH’s began forming across the U.S. in the late-1970’s as a unique way to raise attention to workers’ safety and make improvements. They exist in various forms and sizes throughout the country, but all share a similar focus: improving workplace safety. The discussion kicked off efforts by NWJP to begin establishing a COSH in Oregon.

Workers’ safety has been gaining more attention after a series of eye-opening articles detailing the dangerous working conditions for Oregon’s forestry workforce, which consists mostly of immigrant workers in the United States, many on H2B temporary foreign worker visas. Stories of their injuries, abuse, and exploitation prompted a legislative hearing last month in the Oregon Senate’s Interim Committee on Workforce.

In addition to workers’ testimony, the committee heard from advocates like Carl Wilmsen with the Northwest Forest Worker Center, and Joel Iboa of Beyond Toxics. Those advocates shared stories of workers being told by employers to lie after being injured on the job, a lack of access to clean drinking water and restrooms, and pesticide exposure. They urged the committee to adopt stronger inspection and enforcement standards, especially in the reforestation industry.

Despite the enormous challenges facing workers every day, Dr. Monforton ended her remarks on a hopeful note, citing efforts like COSHs’ and calling it “the most promising and exciting time to be part of the workers’ rights movement.”

Minimum Wage Rose on July 1st!

On July 1st, minimum wages rose across Oregon. NWJP worked hard in the short 2016 legislative session to support its partners in the Raise the Wage coalition and to secure the increase, while assuring that no industry, like agricultural or restaurant, was exempted from the increase. While the law was 2015 Raise The Wage Lobby Daycertainly a compromise, this summer well over one hundred thousand low-wage workers in Oregon got a desperately needed raise.

In Portland and the state’s more populated counties, the minimum wage rose to $9.75 on July 1. In Malheur, Lake, Harney, Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam, Wallowa, Grant, Jefferson, Baker, Union, Crook, Klamath, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Umatilla and Morrow counties, our more rural counties, it went up to $9.50. Eventually separating into three regions with separate wage tiers, the wage across the state will steadily increase through 2022 and then be indexed to inflation.

NWJP also worked to influence the regulations that Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) issued specifying which minimum wage would apply to employees who worked in more than one minimum wage region or away from their employers’ fixed locations. The regulations also are certainly a compromise. However, they assure that an employee who works 50% or more of their time in a higher wage region than the region of their employer’s fixed place of business will receive the higher wage. Those that work in more than one region away from their employer’s fixed location will receive either a) the regional minimum wage for each hour worked in each region, or b) the highest of the minimum wages for all of the hours. This will prevent employers from moving to lower wage regions, while dispatching employees into higher ones, in an effort to game the system.

We know that a higher minimum wage will not stop wage theft and even may encourage employers to steal wages from their workers to maintain their profit margins. Therefore, NWJP continues to advocate for stronger laws against wage theft, to educate workers about their rights under the law, to backstop the efforts of community partners to help workers collect wages and will be accepting cases from workers who believe that their employer is not complying.

 

 

 

July 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.

Last month I urged opposition to several anti-immigrant ballot measures, and I had planned to use this post to call out several other anti-worker ballot measures that were in circulation.

However, I’m pleased to say that it appears that most of these ugly propositions will not make the November ballet!

A final worrisome measure, IP-50, is being touted as protecting privacy, but is designed to make it more difficult for grassroots campaigns to succeed by denying access to voter registration records. The point is to make elections much more expensive, giving well-funded, corporate campaigns a decisive advantage over grassroots efforts.

 

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

Inside NWJP: Welcome to Our Summer Law Clerks!

photo 1We’re excited to have four law clerks with us at NWJP this summer!

Cecilia Anguiano was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin but is now a rising 2L at Lewis & Clark Law School. She is interested in immigration and employment law, as well as rock climbing, traveling, running, and hiking. She says she’s had an amazing experience at NWJP because of the myriad opportunities it presents for client contact. Another law clerk, Aubrey Jones, is a rising 2L at Yale Law School. Aubrey grew up in Portland and is excited to be back in Oregon for the summer. Working at NWJP, she feels lucky to have met a great group of lawyers in the Portland area who are passionate about workers' rights. In her free time, she enjoys running, baking, and practicing Muay Thai kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Kelsey Peddie, a rising 2L at Lewis & Clark Law School, is from Lake Oswego and chose to clerk at NWJP because she’s interested in pursuing a career in employment law. She has enjoyed clerking at NWJP because it’s given her opportunities to engage with and work on many different stages of litigation and advocacy work. Her interests include yoga, running, food, and Duck football. Last but not least, Melissa Vollono is a rising 2L student at Willamette University College of Law. Originally from Connecticut, she considers Portland to be her home. She is very excited to be a summer law clerk at NWJP and most enjoys the opportunity to research cases relating to labor law and employment contracts. Her interests include running, reading, politics, and trying new restaurants. We are very grateful to them for their support!

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 or 503-525-8454 for more information about how you or someone you know could join us!