All posts by Chris Ferlazzo

Inside NWJP: Fall Fundraising Success!

We challenged our supporters to dig a little deeper as 2016 came to a close. To help encourage more donations, Robert Stoll stepped up to match all new or increased donations up to a maximum total of $10,000. Just this last week, we hit that total, so those donations will all be doubled!

We have much to do in the days ahead, and these generous donations are much appreciated.

December 2016: From Michael’s Desk

I think that most of us who stand in support of the rights of working people have spent some time recently in a bit of shell shock over recent turns in our national government.  Now it’s time to shake it off, dust off our pants and get ready to do our work.  A real firestorm is coming and we must prepare ourselves to leap to the front of the battle.

Part of this is internal -- replacing despair and disgust at what our fellow citizens have done with fortitude, resolve and a trust in the ultimate good sense and inherent power of working people working together for a better world.

But there are also some things we need to be doing to get ready.  Below is a short list of suggested tasks.

  • Most DACA recipients will meet the minimum requirements for filing an application for cancellation of removal in deportation hearings in the event that program is cancelled, as has been promised by the President-elect, and if ICE moves aggressively to detain and deport those individuals. Ultimately, these applications require favorable discretion and are difficult to win, but we need to organize, train and support legal advocates for folks caught up in this process.
  • We may well see a revival of workplace raids of an earlier era. It makes sense that the new administration, unable to deliver on the promise of rounding up and deporting 11 million people, will resort to visible, high profile actions to look like they are doing something.  Our experience is that this is quite detrimental not only to the morale and sense of security of immigrant workers, but is very toxic to enforcement of rights in the workplace.  We have to be ready to challenge these actions on constitutional grounds where we can.  More importantly, workers need to understand what they should do if they are caught up in enforcement actions at work.  Unions have an important role to play here. So do other worker and immigrant rights organizations.
  • Much has been made of a Trump massive repeal of protective workplace regulations on an immediate basis. Actually, while the administration enjoys significant discretion in enforcing and reshaping its regulations, there are significant legal impediments to changing federal regulations.  This is a fairly distinct area of law, and we need to be on top of arguments to be made in slowing down destructive rule changes, and make space for taking on cases in this area.
  • While we will definitely be on the defensive at the federal level, ironically, that may make it easier to win advances locally. We should double down at home on what we can achieve for workers.
  • In the end, it will be the determined resistance of our community, working together, that imposes the greatest limitation on the damage the new administration can do. We must reinforce and reinvigorate our alliances.

Looking ahead to working with you in the difficult times that lie ahead,

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

Defending the Rights of Immigrants in the Workplace

NWJP’s mission has always included supporting and defending immigrant workers. Recent national and local events have made this work even more important. NWJP currently represent a number of workers whose coworkers, emboldened by the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric, have targeted them.

In Portland, two of our clients, from Mexico and Guatemala, were crew leads for a moving company when a new worker started making racist remarks about Latinos, including that he hoped that Trump would become president and remove all of the Hispanics from the country, and tried to pick a fight with some of the Latino workers. Our clients complained to the supervisors because they felt like they had to protect themselves and other Latino workers from abuse by this worker. Both crew leads were fired.

A Latino worker at a major national retailor in Hood River was confronted by a white coworker who threatened him with a knife while calling him racist slurs. After he asked for protection from his supervisors, he was fired.

And, another Latino worker in the Eugene area endured a year and a half of racist remarks and escalating, destructive pranks focused on the few Latino workers. He reported the conduct to his supervisors, but nothing changed. Things came to a head when a coworker hit our client in the back with a pole. While he was out on leave for his injured back, he was fired.

We know that these cases are just a small sampling of the racial discrimination that immigrant workers face in Oregon and across the country. But Oregon leads the nation in reported incidents of race-based harassment since the election. Our work, therefore, includes not only representing individual workers, but also pressing for legislation that will better protect workers. In 2017, we will push for a bill in Oregon that gives workers who are fired for retaliation, like the workers mentioned above, additional tools to more easily prove that their protected complaints were the reasons for their firing. And, we are working with other community groups to strengthen our networks to confront new threats that immigrant workers might face in the coming year.

Inside NWJP: Gavin Barney, Law Clerk

Gavin Barney comes to NWJP from the Bay Area. Originally from Oakland, Gavin went to UC Santa Cruz before getting his J.D. at Berkeley Law. Deeply committed to workers’ rights and social justice, Barney volunteered at Equal Rights Advocates and If/When/How (formerly Law Students for Reproductive Justice), and did clinical work at Berkeley on employment law. After taking the bar, Barney qualified for a fellowship from Berkeley Law that led him to NWJP, where he has been assisting on several cases involving wage theft, wrongful termination, construction labor contractor law, and more.

September 2016: From Michael’s Desk

The construction workers’ case described in this eNews is not just a victory for particular workers.  It also represents a milestone in NWJP’s representation of working people.  With that case, NWJP advocates passed the $3,000,000 mark in terms of the wages and damages we have recovered for workers. We often measure our success based upon changes in law or the organizing victories we help our clients or allies achieve.  And these are important.  However, I remember long-time Oregon civil rights lawyer Elden Rosenthal saying that, “In America, justice is not done until money changes hands.”  Obviously, NWJP can't begin to provide a remedy for every worker who is exploited. But the work we do in representing workers means that employers must think twice before exploiting workers.  The impunity they’d otherwise enjoy is put in doubt. We’ve much remaining to do, but it is worth noting that we’ve given Oregon’s employers who are tempted to cheat at least $3,000,000 worth of reasons not to do so.

DMD

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

Victory for Construction Workers!

This month NWJP helped three construction workers who worked dry walling apartments near Portland State University settle their federal case with the general contractor and a subcontractor. The stop-wage-theftcase was brought to NWJP by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades organizers who identified the wage theft going on at a non-union worksite.

The three experienced dry wallers worked for a labor contractor named Jose Gonzalez who stopped paying them and disappeared. The workers were encouraged to keep working by the general contractor, but were never paid. NWJP helped them file a lawsuit alleging that the general and the drywall subcontractor that hired Gonzalez were joint employers and responsible for their unpaid wages. After successfully defeating a motion to dismiss, the workers were able to resolve their claims with the general and drywall subcontractor, even though Gonzalez was never found.

“It is all too common that some general contractors and subcontractors in the construction industry seek to evade employer liability with a growing chain of subcontracts,” said Corinna Spencer-Scheurich, Deputy Director of NWJP. “As the Portland economy heats up, I hope this case reminds contractors that they need to be responsible for the workers on their projects and make sure that they are being paid correctly.”

In addition to regular litigation on behalf of construction industry workers, NWJP also works to protect workers through policy advocacy. In 2013, NWJP led the Coalition to Stop Wage Theft in winning protections in the construction industry that went into effect in July of 2015. The protections require construction labor brokers (those whose only job is to supply workers) to obtain a license and to post a bond. Contractors who hire labor brokers without licenses are jointly liable for the brokers’ failure to pay wages and other disclosure requirements under the law. This law will help future workers like these dry wallers from disappearing labor brokers and help them more quickly hold generals and subcontractors responsible when they hire contractors without licenses.

Inside NWJP: NWJP Hires New Coordinator, Campaigns and Allies

kateNWJP is thrilled to welcome Kate Suisman, who will be joining us to support our coalition work, including the Oregon Coalition to Stop Wage Theft and the newly formed Injured Worker's Project. Kate comes to us from VOZ  Workers’  Rights Education Project, where she worked as a volunteer attorney in their wage theft program for two years. Originally from Connecticut, Kate first came to Portland to study at Reed College. She then headed back east to New York, where she worked for five years with the City Council. Her work there inspired her to go to law school; Kate earned her J.D. at CUNY School of Law in 2010.

Welcome Kate!

Farmworker Victories Around the Region

While we usually focus on local news in our updates, these two victories for farmworkers in Washington and California are highly significant.

fuj
Courtesy of FUJ

In Washington, three years of organizing have led to a historic victory for workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms. The campaign included a boycott of Driscoll’s berries and several actions in the Portland area. Last week, workers voted overwhelmingly (192-55) to join a union, and are demanding a contract guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage and sick leave.

Meanwhile, in California, farmworkers are finally on track to receive the same overtime pay that workers in other industries receive: time and a half for more than eight hours in a day or 40 hours in a week. Farmworkers are still unfairly excluded from most of the rights enshrined by the FLSA, but this bill signed into law last week represents a major victory.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article101400142.html

NWJP Files Class Action Lawsuit on Behalf of Immigrant Workers

Seven immigrant and refugee workers took a stand Monday, August 8th, against harsh working conditions at Portland Specialty Baking, LLC (PSB). The PSB production line workers filed a class action lawsuit claiming violations of overtime laws and paid sick leave, seeking to represent hundreds of current and former workers. PSB workers manufacture such baked goods as bagels, pretzels, and pies, that are sold under Franz and Rich’s brand names and at Starbucks, Walmart, Costco, Winco and Jamba Juice.

“We work long hours, sometimes more than 13 hours a day and often over 60 hours in a week,” said Ignacio Mazahua Reyes through a Spanish interpreter. “We are simply asking to be paid correctly the overtime that we are owed and to be able to take paid sick leave without fear that we will be written up or lose our jobs.”

The workers, through their attorneys at Northwest Workers’ Justice Project and the Law Office of Phil Goldsmith, allege they should be paid both daily manufacturing overtime when they work more than 10 hours a day and weekly overtime for hours over 40 in a week. They request injunctive relief to prevent shifts of more than 13 hours, illegal in manufacturing. The complaint also says PSB’s attendance policy violates the new Oregon Paid Sick Leave Law that went into effect on January 1, 2016 because workers receive points that can lead to discipline and written warnings for taking protected leave.

“The daily manufacturing and weekly overtime wages are meant to protect our clients, or at least compensate them, for the grueling working conditions they are experiencing,” said Corinna Spencer-Scheurich of the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project. “For many, this is one of their first jobs in the United States, and wage theft and labor violations don’t constitute a very warm welcome.”

“Some small changes in pay or schedules could make a big difference in our lives,” said Hsit Hsit through a Karen interpreter. “It is hard to get enough rest. Without the lawsuit, the company would have very little reason to do things differently.”

The announcement of the lawsuit was covered by several news sources, including  Univision, NW Labor Press, and the Portland Mercury,

Inside NWJP: Patricia Laguna, Legal Assistant; Welcome Chris Ferlazzo

Patricia LagunIMG_9141a, our legal assistant, has been on the front lines of NWJP for seven years. As a former client, Patí is uniquely qualified to serve as the primary liaison between NWJP and current and former clients. Patí is a jack of all trades, engaging in duties ranging from conducting initial client interviews, managing communication with the vast majority of clients, and educational outreach to the community.

Patí is a longtime advocate for the rights of working people. She worked as a family service worker and as a parent involvement coordinator at the Oregon Child Development Coalition’s Migrant Seasonal Head Start program. In addition, Patí worked with indigenous populations at the Indigenous National Institute in Oaxaca, Mexico. She also served as a producer of educational programming in Mexico City

Patí loves working at NWJP because she is passionate about helping the most vulnerable communities of workers educate themselves about their rights. She is devoted to helping to empower clients to defend their rights. In addition to wanting clients to win their cases, Patí wants to see clients become community leaders and organizers.

In other staff news, we have hired Chris Ferlazzo as Program Administrator

Chris is the newest member of our staff, and comes to us from Portland Jobs with Justice, where he worked as an organizer and fundraiser for 14 years. Before that, he worked in the Central America solidarity movement. Chris is charged with the general administration of the organization, including fundraising, communications, and operations.