Fair Work News, Fall 2017 Edition

Greetings and welcome to the Fall edition of the Fair Work News!

Nicole Vallestero Keenan

When Fair Work Center opened its doors in April 2015, we had an ambitious vision: a future where every worker in Seattle knows their rights and has the tools to exercise them.

With your support, we are making incredible progress towards realizing our ambitious early vision. So it is with tremendous pride to announce that, after three years as executive director, I am moving on to new challenges with the goal of building a better future with policy advocacy.

Over the past 30 months, we grew from a staff of three people to 11 people, and we have launched several exciting initiatives. Some of my personal highlights include:

  • The Fair Work Collaborative is a partnership of 11 community based organizations convened by Fair Work Center to train workers, advocates, case managers and non-profits about their rights at work. Together, we’ve talked to more than 20,000 people about their rights at work since we started in October 2015.
  • In 2016, we expanded our Know Your Rights outreach and education model to include health and safety trainings. Through a partnership with the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, we developed a curriculum and piloted a training program with more than 120 people trained.
  • In September 2016, we officially launched the Fair Work Legal Clinic. In addition to becoming a fully functioning law firm within Fair Work Center, we are also training the next generation of employment attorneys. Students from the Seattle University and the University of Washington Schools of Law can now enroll in a Workers’ Rights Clinical Course that combines a rigorous academic curriculum with an active practice in employment law in our legal clinic. Since opening, the legal clinic recovered more than $400,000 for workers and provided legal information and referral services to more than 500 workers.
  • Over these past three years, we have also played an active role in advocating for the enforcement of labor standards at the state and local levels. We’ve influenced numerous pro-worker policies, including: the 2015 labor standards enforcement bill, which gave Seattle some of the strongest local enforcement mechanisms in the nation; the secure scheduling ordinance; and the new statewide paid sick and safe leave law – Initiative 1433. And just this summer we advocated to help prevent the City of Tacoma from closing its labor standards enforcement office by cutting its budget.
  • Fair Work Center also partnered with the Center for Innovation in Worker Organizations to inform and support the City of Seattle in taking on directed investigations – meaning the agency can investigate and file charges without an initiating complaint – which is critical for enforcement of standard in industries with high rates of workplace violations and low rates of reporting. Just last week, the Office of Labor Standards announced their ground breaking directed investigation program.

I recently reviewed the initial three-year strategic plan laid out for this organization, and I’m proud to say that we met every goal laid out in that plan. I was recruited to this position to help create a new and innovative labor standards enforcement organization. We have done that. All of this work has been artfully executed by a visionary and talented team of people, and it is time for the next phase of this organization to continue under new leadership. My last day at Fair Work Center will be on November 22nd. However, I will continue to support our visionary board of directors and the organization’s new leadership through the end of the year.

As a gesture of my enduring commitment to the success of Fair Work Center, I am signing up to be a monthly donor. I hope you will join me in matching my gift at $20 a month – please consider donating today!

Thank you for your support of Fair Work Center.

In Solidarity,


FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

Recap of the Workers’ Rights Tribunal

On October 26th, 2017, Fair Worker Center, Colectiva Legal del Pueblo, and the Seattle Workers for Justice Coalition co-hosted a workers’ rights tribunal to hear testimony from seven non-union iron workers. They spoke of horrendous working conditions experienced on publicly funded and private construction projects across the region. Many of these workers have been on strike against Bulwark Construction and Walker Rebar for the past year.

The tribunal included community- and elected-leaders from the Puget Sound area.

Workers’ testimony included numerous accounts of unsafe working conditions, lack of training, fear of reporting injuries or unsafe conditions, lack of health benefits for backbreaking and dangerous work, and more. They also talked about how the companies utilize immigrant labor because they know they will work for less

“When I began to work for this company [Bulwark], they never gave me the right training,” said Armando, who also said that despite working long days, he and his coworkers weren’t allowed to take breaks.

Magdelano echoed that statement: “I was working 10-12 hours in a day. No lunch breaks. No water. No gloves. No safety jackets. No hard hat.”

Alfredo said that if he or his coworkers asked for breaks, they were told they could leave if they were unhappy. Alfredo was also badly injured on the job once, but his foreman made him continue working without filing an injury report. He said, “I just kept on working. This is what happens when you get injured. The company skimps on providing insurance, benefits, and everything else.”

After hearing these and other workers’ testimony, the members of the Tribunal agreed to send a letter to Bulwark Construction and Walker Rebar condemning what they heard from the workers and calling on those companies to treat their workers with dignity and respect, comply with labor and employment standards, and recognize their workers right to form a union. Fair Work Center is helping draft this letter and will be part of the coalition of leaders and organizations that deliver it to Bulwark Construction and Walker Rebar.


FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

The Beecher’s Case

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is a prominent, local, artisan cheesemaker. Founded in Seattle in 2003, Beecher’s now anchors popular in-house cheesemaking shops in both Seattle and the Flatiron District of New York City.

Back in September of 2015, nine hoop-breakers – a job requiring extreme physical labor that comes near the end of the cheese-making process – came to Fair Work Center alleging that they were routinely denied breaks, paid sick leave time and overtime. When they did take leave, they said they had been retaliated against by their manager.

At the time, Fair Work Center did not yet have a legal clinic, just three staff and a part-time legal director. We formally requested the Seattle Office of Labor Standards (OLS) file a Director’s Charge on behalf of the cheese-making employees at Beecher’s. After months of Fair Work Center advocating alongside and on behalf of those workers, OLS worked to convene a settlement conference so that we could talk directly with Beecher’s and persuade them to change their practices.

In what would become our first major co-enforcement action with OLS, we saw company-wide changes at Beecher’s as a result of the charges filed and resulting settlement that finally came in May 2017. All cheese production workers at Beecher’s received raises. Every employee at Beecher’s will receive Know Your Rights training provided in a unique partnership between Beecher’s and the Fair Work Center. Supervisors will receive training on how to comply with Seattle’s labor standards, and Beecher’s will enhance its oversight of those employees. And the managing supervisor accused of denying breaks and paid sick leave, retaliating against employees who took leave, and denying overtime pay was fired. Training for employees and supervisors will begin later this year.

While the individual cases we represent are incredibly important for those individual workers – often meaning they can pay the rent on time or put food on the table – we are increasingly looking for cases like Beecher’s, where we can make company-wide or even industry-wide impacts. By working with the Office of Labor Standards on an innovative new model of co-enforcement, we are forging a path in labor standards enforcement with the potential to see powerful, lasting improvements for workers.


FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

Case Briefs

Below are a few cases that have come in to the Fair Work Legal Clinic in the past couple of months. Names and other identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy of these workers.

Ivan and his family were new to the United States, having moved here from Argentina to pursue new opportunities in the food service industry. Back in Buenos Aires, he and his wife were accomplished gluten-free bakers and small business owners, and they were hoping to replicate that success here in the Pacific Northwest. To help make ends meet, Ivan went to work at a local South American restaurant. Despite consistently working 12-hour days, he never once received overtime pay. Eventually, he left to work in a different restaurant, without ever being paid for the overtime he was owed. After coming to Fair Work Center, Ivan worked with one of our law students in the legal clinic, who helped draft a demand letter for Ivan to send to his former employer. We then negotiated a settlement with the employer covering $5,000 in unpaid overtime to Ivan.

Jeffery is a maintenance worker who disclosed his HIV-positive status on a health insurance form he completed for his employer. His employer [who had no right to see Jeffrey’s confidential medical information] then ordered the Jeffery to take a leave of absence, saying he couldn’t come back to work until Jeffery provided a doctor’s statement releasing him to work and detailing his personal medical information. The anti-discrimination employment law protects people with HIV and other medical conditions from differential, negative treatment at work, so we sent the employer a letter alerting them to the legal implications of their current course. Thankfully, and because Jeffery wanted to continue working there, the employer withdrew its demand and paid Jeffery back wages for the time he was forced to stay home from work.

Lastly, we also recently settled a case in which we represented Sandra and Nate, two former employees of a local general contracting company. The general contractor had been stringing them along for months, promising to pay as soon as he could, while the workers continued to work full-time without getting a paycheck. All the while, the contractor was sending his kids to private school and taking a family vacation to Mexico. After a few months, the contractor abandoned the construction projects and laid off the entire staff. Sandra and Nate were referred to the legal clinic by the King County Bar Association, and once we took on their case we filed suit, which led to negotiating a settlement with the general contractor for $15,000 in compensation.


FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

Fair Work Legal Clinic First Birthday and Fundraiser

What a night! Thanks to everyone who came out to celebrate the 1st Birthday of the Fair Work Legal Clinic on September 27.

The Fair Work Legal Clinic has been a tremendous addition to Fair Work Center. Since opening the legal clinic one year ago, we have provided intake and legal information, advice or representation to more than 450 workers looking for a solution to workplace violations, most commonly some form of wage theft. The total monetary impact of our interventions in these cases is more than $400,000, while also helping numerous workers get their jobs back after wrongful termination.

We’d like to especially thank our sponsors one last time for making the event a success: Emery ReddyBreskin Johnson & Townsend PLLCTerrell Marshall Law Group PLLCFrank Freed Subit & Thomas LLPUniversity of Washington School of LawSeattle University School of Law. And thanks to our boosters: AKW Law, P.C. and Kittleson Cairns PLLC – Injury & Employment Lawyers – Tacoma.

In case you missed the event, you can still contribute at fairworkcenter.org/donate.

Check out the pics below!

Nicole Keenan, Executive Director of Fair Work Center

 

Liz Ford, Legal Director of Fair Work Center

 

Danielle Kim, former Workers’ Rights Clinical Course student, Seattle University School of Law, Class of 2017

 

Becki Smith, Fair Work Center Board Treasurer and the Deputy Director of the National Employment Law Project

 

Seattle Mayor Tim Burgess

 

Marty Garfinkel, Schroeter Goldmark & Bender

 

 

Andra Kranzler, Intake & Outreach Staff Attorney, with Mayor Tim Burgess

 

Happy Birthday, Fair Work Legal Clinic!

 


FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

Summer Staff Additions!

We’ve been fortunate to grow our staff over the past few months to help meet the increased outreach, education and legal services we are providing. Please join us in welcoming Katie, Andra and Alex. Learn more about each below.

Katie Cameron
Staff Attorney

Katie Cameron is a graduate of Stanford University and Berkeley Law. Prior to joining the Fair Work Center Legal Clinic, she worked in private practice in Seattle, representing employees in state and federal litigation. Her experience also includes work in public policy, impact litigation and immigration law. At Fair Work Center, Katie focuses on direct representation, litigation, and policy advocacy designed to enforce workers’ rights and shift power in the workplace for workers. Katie will also provide legal and technical support to our community clinic program and collaborative partners.

Andra Kranzler
Intake and Outreach Staff Attorney
Andra Kranzler is a graduate of Eastern Washington University and Seattle University School of Law. After law school, Andra received the school’s Justice in Action fellowship, where she spent two years at Columbia Legal Services providing critical legal support and advocacy that was instrumental in producing Seattle’s groundbreaking priority hire ordinance. Most recently, Andra was a Legislative Aide for Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold. Andra will join the legal clinic in August and will be responsible for coordinating our community clinic program, handling intake services, and joining our outreach and education team at events to provide legal services in the community. She will also represent workers directly

Alex Gallo-Brown
Retail Workforce Development Coordinator
Alex Gallo-Brown, Retail Workforce Development Coordinator. Alex is responsible for developing and guiding our Retail Workforce Development program. He brings experience as a community college instructor, labor organizer, published writer and poet, retail worker, and caregiver, among other vocations. Alex holds degrees in English and Creative Writing from Georgia State University in Atlanta and Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He is passionate about empowering workers, promoting racial justice, preparing pasta puttanesca, and reading and writing poetry.


FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

Fair Work News, May 2017 Edition

Greetings and welcome to the May edition of the Fair Work News, our quarterly e-newsletter.

Nicole Vallestero Keenan

When I was the victim of wage theft years ago, I made the decision to ignore it. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Asking for your rights shouldn’t be so hard, and it shouldn’t incite fear over losing your job. But it was hard and it did make me scared. Every worker should have the power to say to her boss, “Hey, my paycheck’s a little short,” or, “I need to be out sick today,” without fear of retaliation. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I needed was a Fair Work Center.

Two years ago, we set out to build an organization to ensure every worker in our region knew their rights and had the tools and resources to enact them. Today we are continuing to grow as an organization and expand our reach. We will soon have 10 staff. In our new contract with the Seattle Office of Labor Standards, we have 12 community partners committed to training workers 22,000 workers together. And we have a thriving legal clinic that has already supported hundreds of workers to achieve their rights on the job. In this newsletter, we provide updates on two cases that the legal clinic recently closed and two more that we are currently working on.

But there is so much more to do. Earlier this week, we marched with thousands of people for worker and immigrant rights on May Day – International Workers Day. It’s a day for solidarity among workers across the country, but it also highlights the barriers to sustainable, fair work for immigrants in our country. If your immigration status is tenuous, retaliation on the job could result in tearing your family and your life apart.

Fair Work Center is digging hard into the work of making sure our labor laws are implemented well and benefit everyone, regardless of national origin, primary language, physical ability, gender or race. We are working to make sure that Washington State’s new minimum wage and paid sick leave laws protect workers against retaliation and provide real remedies for workers when they are wronged. We are also launching a series of roundtable discussions to help government agencies identify and enforce labor laws while protecting the identity of workers – thereby adding another layer of protection from retaliation.

Finally, I am excited to announce that we are launching a new leadership program for workers we engage with through our outreach, education and legal services. The Worker Power Training program will deepen workers’ understanding of labor and employment law, build workers’ skills for supporting and advocating for each other, and connect workers to others who are equally passionate about these issues. The story of Amina and Ahmed in this newsletter is a perfect example of how workers gain power by standing together.

Thank you for your continued support of Fair Work Center.

In Solidarity,

 

 

FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

Amina, Ahmed and the power of standing together

Fair Work Center is excited to announce that we are launching a new leadership development program for workers we engage with through our outreach, education and legal services. The Worker Power Training program will deepen workers’ understanding of labor and employment law, build workers’ skills for supporting and advocating for each other, and connect workers to others who are equally passionate about these issues.

Fully informed workers standing together creates power for workers, especially in low-wage industries where employers often isolate and intimidate workers into remaining silent and compliant.

Take the recent example of Amina and the role our own Ahmed Abdi played as peer advocate. Amina, a Somali refugee and mother, has worked for years in commercial cleaning for one of the major subcontractors at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

About a year ago, Amina got a new shift supervisor, and it wasn’t going well. She was often reduced to tears by her interactions with him. He routinely yelled at her in front of other staff and in one-on-one meetings. She put up with his verbal abuse for months. She even tried to get transferred to another shift supervisor’s team but management said no. When Amina finally stood up for herself and told her supervisor he couldn’t keep treating her this way, she was told to turn in her ID badge and go home early. She thought she lost her job.

A few days later she was called in for a meeting with her shift supervisor and the general manager. She thought for sure they were going to fire her. She felt that was unfair but she didn’t know what to do about it.

Amina called her friend, Faduma, who had experienced her own problems at work but got support from Fair Work Center. Faduma told Amina to call Ahmed Abdi, a leader in the East African community and our outreach manager.

Amina asked Ahmed whether she should go to the meeting. It was 9:00pm and her meeting was the next morning. She was scared of what might happen and thought it might be best to not go at all. Ahmed told Amina to go and he offered to accompany her as peer support and translator.

In the meeting, Ahmed steered the conversation away from the personal tensions between Amina and her shift supervisor to a more productive discussion on the quality of Amina’s work history, which was exemplary. Prior to her new supervisor, there were no formal complaints about her work over the years. Even her supervisor’s issues were based on her personality, never her ability to do the work. Ahmed helped cool simmering tensions and gave Amina the courage to tell her side of the story.

At the end of the meeting, Ahmed and Amina were told to wait outside in the lobby while her supervisor and the general manager spoke in private. Five minutes later the general manager emerged, handed Amina her badge back and told her she would be transferred to another shift supervisor.

On her own, Amina was afraid. She felt powerless. But with Ahmed standing with her, she had the courage to fight for her job. Now Amina knows she is not alone, knows she has rights on the job, and knows how to support other her co-workers or friends when they need it.

We believe the Worker Power Trainings will strengthen worker leadership in our region. This leadership, in turn, will support other workers in standing up for their rights, as well as inform our work at Fair Work Center over the coming years. We are excited by this new opportunity and we hope you are too. If so, please consider supporting Fair Work Center with a donation to help us get this program fully resourced and off the ground.

FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

May Case Briefs

Here is an update on two cases we reported in our last newsletter as well as a sampling of two new cases. All worker names are changed to protect their privacy.

Update on Kim’s case: Previously, we shared that Kim was paid just $1,000 per month as an assistant to a hairdresser, despite working 45 hours each week (less than $5.50 per hour). Her employer thought that she could take advantage of Kim’s immigration status as well as her desire to break into the personal care industry. The Fair Work Legal Clinic represented Kim and filed charges on her behalf with Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (L&I).

Though L&I initially assessed $2,000 in back pay, which was as much as Kim expected, Danielle Kim, a third-year law student at Seattle University, didn’t stop there. She looked closely at the salon’s appointment log, parsing each appointment and determining how many hours Kim worked. Danielle proved that Kim was owed another $2,000 for her overtime and work off the clock. L&I agreed, ordering the employer to pay the full $4,000. Kim is thrilled with the result, but we at Fair Work Center believe L&I should go further in future cases.

Currently, L&I does not require that employers include interest when paying back wages stolen from their workers’ paychecks. No matter how long ago the wage theft occurred or how long the investigation takes, L&I will allow the employer to satisfy its obligation paying only the wages that were due originally. Essentially, this means that employers can take a no-interest loan from their employees’ paychecks. Meanwhile, low-wage workers – who are disproportionately women, people of color, immigrants and refugees – suffer the consequences. Fair Work Center will continue to advocate on behalf of all workers to recover interest in all wage theft cases.

Update on José’s case: In our last newsletter, we also told you about José, who worked as a painter for a large construction firm that misclassified him as an independent contractor. He came to Fair Work Center with some $2,000 in court fees after his initial lawyer abandoned his case.

After we initially took the case, the employer approached us with a settlement offer of $750. But after four months of careful case development and hard negotiation on José’s behalf by the Legal Clinic – including outstanding work by Troy Thornton another third-year law student at Seattle University – José just accepted a settlement of $10,000.

The Fair Work Legal Clinic took Jose’s case when no other attorney in Seattle would. Not because those lawyers didn’t care about José or believe in his case, but because our justice system is not set up to serve the needs of low-wage workers. For complex cases like José’s, with relatively modest amounts of money at stake, it is incredibly difficult for low-wage workers to get justice on the job.

Here are a few more newer cases currently underway.

Gova worked as a seasonal employee at a large department store in downtown Seattle. During her two months there, she suffered routine harassment from her manager, Susy. Susy said things like: “You don’t belong here,” and “I don’t understand your English,” and “Why don’t you go back?” Gova is from Mongolia.

But Gova couldn’t afford to lose her job. While she was regularly harassed by her manager, she was also forced to work through many of her rest and meal breaks to ensure the retail floor was sufficiently staffed during the busiest time of the year. Not that Gova complained, she was a hard worker, but Human Resources noticed she wasn’t clocking out for meal breaks and insisted she do so.

One evening, about halfway into her 8-hour shift, Gova asked for her meal break. Susy denied her break and told Gova to ask again in an hour, which she did. She was denied again. Recalling her conversations with Human Resources, Gova said that she had to take her break. The situation escalated when to the point where Gova was told to go home early from her shift. A few days later Gova learned she was fired. Gova requested an investigation and access to her employee file. Both requests were denied.

The Legal Clinic has helped Gova gain access to her file and a written statement of the reasons for her discharge. We are assisting Gova to file wage and hour complaints with the Seattle Office of Labor Standards to get Gova paid for her breaks, and we are working with Gova to explore her options for other actions against her employer.

Amar is both a long- and short-haul truck driver. He worked for a single dispatching company and was told that, as an “independent contractor,” he would be paid for each successful delivery in an amount decided at the time of dispatch. Needless to say, the dispatcher never told him the amount he would earn at the time of dispatch.

For the first six months, though, they paid Amar somewhere between $750 and $3,000 depending the length of the trip. In March, he was dispatched to a make a delivery in Ohio and headed out on this 10-day round-trip journey. Upon his return, the company told him that they could not pay him right then but would pay later. After several more unpaid jobs, he demanded payment and said that he intended to leave the company. The owner threatened his commercial drivers license – a not-so-veiled threat based on his perceived immigration status.

The Legal Clinic is working to get Amar paid the correct amount for every trip her made.

Finally, in a new and still developing case: Lucas is a cook at a local restaurant chain where is has not been paid overtime or provided rest or meal breaks. Other workers at the restaurant are in the same situation, though they are too frightened to come forward. The Legal Clinic has accepted his case and is hopeful to remedy Lucas’s situation as well as encourage his co-workers to come forward.

FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS:

Sing Into Spring 2017 Recap

We had so much fun at Sing Into Spring, our karaoke fundraiser on March 23 at The Royal Room. More than 175 people packed the room and enjoyed good food, company and more than a few amazing karaoke performances! If you missed the fun, it is not too late to donate and support Fair Work Center. Check out some of our favorite photos from the night below.

Our MC and ED, Nicole

Jose from Latino Community Fund, a Fair Work Collaborative partner

Pabi, a worker the is getting support from the Legal Clinic

Becki Smith, FWC Board Member

Sam, bringing down the house

One for the kids!

The Got Green All Stars!

FAIR WORK NEWS CONTENTS: