All posts by Chris Ferlazzo

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.

___________________________________________________________

Actualizaciones sobre la vivienda

(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

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

VIDEOS:

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

Ombudsman para Trabajadores Lesionados

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:

Resources for Workers During the COVID-19 Crisis

Para español, haga clic aquí 

While NWJP continues to take calls and questions from the community, these resources may also answer pressing questions for workers in Oregon.

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Housing Updates

(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.
___________________________________________________________

Sick and Family Leave for Covid-19

VIDEOS:

OregonLawHelp.org:

A Better Balance:

U.S. Department of Labor:

Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI):

Family Values at Work and National Employment Law Project:

_________________________________________________________
Workplace Health and Safety for Covid-19

VIDEOS:

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health:

US OSHA:

Ombudsman for Injured Workers

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

OR OSHA

COSH Network

__________________________________________________________
Disability Rights for Covid-19

US Equal Opportunity Commission:

Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI):

Disability Rights Oregon:

Job Accommodation Network (JAN):

___________________________________________________________
Unemployment Insurance for Covid-19

VIDEO:

Legal Aid Services of Oregon

National Employment Law Project

Oregon Employment Department:

Causa Oregon:

__________________________________________________________
Wage and Hour Rights for Covid-19

U.S. Department of Labor:

Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI):

___________________________________________________________
Additional Resources for Workers

Employment Attorney Christina Stephenson Covid KYR Infographics
(NWJP does not endorse any candidate for office)

Dos materiales en Español  -

Comprehensive information on COVID 19 in 57 languages

Resources for domestic workers at National Domestic Worker Alliance

Mutual Aid (where you can request direct assistance, like grocery drops and other things) Map

From Michael’s desk:

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.

Celebration of Worker Justice A Huge Success!

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!

NWJP Summer Volunteers/Clerks

Every quarter, NWJP hosts several law students and other volunteers who are committed to developing their knowledge and skills, and protecting workers’ rights. This past Spring, we were lucky to host 5 such students: Tre Dunn, Cosimo Gaudio, Rodrigo Narbona, Sarah Anderson and Sarah Osborn

Tre Dunn is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Oregon currently double-majoring in Sociology and Spanish, with a minor in Legal Studies. Growing up in Portland within a low-income, minority, family led Tre to gain an understanding for the struggles that underrepresented communities face, and to develop a passion for combating social injustices no matter the form. Due to Tre’s equal interests in the law, the Spanish language, and fighting against social inequalities, volunteering at NWJP seemed to be the perfect fit and most rewarding experience. At NWJP, Tre works as a volunteer legal assistant, helping the staff with tasks such as data entry, contacting clients, and many other ventures. Other than being a full-time student and volunteering at NWJP Tre enjoys countless other activities, including rafting, camping, and attending events such as concerts or sports games.

Cosimo Gaudio is a current undergraduate student at the University of Miami from Portland, Oregon. He is set to graduate in 2020 with a B.A. in Economics and History, and will then enroll in University of Miami Law School. He believes that his time at NWJP has provided him valuable exposure to his future career.

Rodrigo, Cosimo, Sarah O, and Sarah A (as they are known around the office)

Rodrigo Narbona grew up in Chile, but has been living in the States for about 16 years. He is currently a law student at Lewis and Clark Law School and a fairly recent transplant to the Pacific Northwest. Before law school, Rodrigo studied philosophy at Northern Illinois University, where he received both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree. Keenly aware of some of the hardships immigrants face, Rodrigo is very excited to work alongside (and learn from) people who are passionate about worker rights and giving voiceless people the tools to stand up for themselves.

Sarah Anderson is a rising 3L at the University of Oregon. Outside of law school, Sarah enjoys craft beer and delicious food, and has been providing our office with delicious lunches from the Stretch the Noodle food cart.

Sarah Osborn is a law student at the University of Oregon and wants to practice labor or employment law after she graduates. She is also a Master's student in conflict and dispute resolution (ADR). Before coming to law school, Sarah studied economics and worked as a consumer and small business banker. Sarah is from Canada and enjoys exploring the Oregon mountains with her partner, Alisa, and dogs, Eddie and Bean. Her favorite part of being at NWJP is working alongside staff that are just as passionate about social justice and equity in the workplace!

Danya (left) and Sarah (right) went to the 9th Circuit Court on July 11 to watch oral arguments in support of Dallas, Oregon's school district policies allowing transgender students to use public facilities that match their gender identity.  Oregonian story here