Interviews with Founding Donors

Fair Work Center is incredibly grateful to our Founding Donors: Breskin Johnson & Townsend, Terrell Marshall Law Group, Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, and Frank Freed Subit & Thomas. These organizations have all made deep, lasting investments in the success of Fair Work Center.

In this newsletter we bring you interviews with:

We ask all of these leading employment attorneys how they got into employment law and some of the challenges and solutions they see for workers today.

Founding Donor Interview: Breskin Johnson & Townsend

For this interview, we spoke with Dan Johnson from Breskin, Johnson & Townsend. Founding Donors have made deep, lasting investments in the success of Fair Work Center.

Why did you choose to practice employment law?

 Dan JohnsonDan Johnson: “I worked at the Employment Law Center in San Francisco in law school, and also volunteered at the workers’ rights legal clinic at my school in Berkeley California, where I went to law school. From there, I knew I wanted to do employment law, and I knew I wanted to work on the employee side. My values have always been to look out for the little guy.

What are some challenges you see for workers today?

DJ: “So often the employer has all the resources on their side. What we see happening more and more in cases we represent is employers using their resources to take unreasonable stands, dig in their heels and stretch things out as long as possible, trying to wear down the employee or employees making a claim. These cases impact employees’ entire livelihood – it’s about their jobs and how they support their families – but they get fought for a long, long time. And I think sometimes justice delayed is justice denied.”

What change would you like to see to improve the welfare of all working people?

DJ: So many things! This legal clinic is one. I think there are dozens of people walking around in every neighborhood in this city that every day have some sort of legal issue in their workplace. Most of them probably never get any legal support. So community clinics like this one are great opportunities for people to get their questions answered and hopefully to get some relief for wrongs they experienced. Another is the minimum wage. Thankfully we’ve raised it here in Seattle and now Washington, but we’ve got a long way to go in most places around the country.

Why does your firm support Fair Work Center?

DJ: “Since I moved back to Seattle after law school, I really wanted to see something like the Worker’s Rights Clinics in California started here. But I couldn’t do it on my own and was too busy trying to build my own firm. So, I am really excited it has finally happened here with the Fair Work Legal Clinic.

There are so many people walking around with questions about their work or problems in their workplace that could probably be resolved if the right connections were made. I think that’s what the Fair Work Legal Clinic is doing, connecting people with answers and solutions to the problems they are having at work. And the bigger impact the Legal Clinic can have is that employers may be more inclined to do the right thing knowing that their employees now know their rights and have access to free legal services.”

 

Read more from Fair Work News:

Founding Donor Interview: Terrell Marshall Law Group

For this interview, we talked with Toby Marshall from Terrell Marshall Law Group. Founding Donors have made deep, lasting investments in the success of Fair Work Center. 

Why did you choose to practice employment law?

Toby MarshallToby Marshall: “I grew up in a working-class family, and I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. I also know that employers hold a great deal of power over employees. These circumstances leave many workers vulnerable to wage and hour abuses. One of my first cases as a lawyer involved a large company that regularly required its employees to work several hours without pay each week. The employees tolerated this for years because they were afraid to lose their jobs, which would mean losing their ability to put food on the table each day and pay rent each month. I practice employment law to fight for those who find themselves in this situation. Nobody should have to work without pay for fear of being unable to provide for his or her family.”

What are some challenges you see for workers today?

TM: “Workers face a variety of challenges, but one that seems to be on the rise is mandatory arbitration. Increasingly, employers are requiring workers to sign agreements with arbitration clauses that bar class and collective actions. The obvious goal is to prevent workers from banding together, to bar them from the courthouse, and to keep complaints confidential and violations hidden. Some courts have found such agreements to be illegal, saying they violate the right of employees to engage in concerted activity. Other courts, however, have allowed these agreements to stand (and ultimately serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card for employers).”

What change would you like to see to improve the welfare of all working people?

TM: “Greater access to justice. Wage theft is a serious problem in this country, affecting workers in all industries. One large-scale study found that two-thirds of the employees who were surveyed experienced at least one wage-and-hour violation in the previous workweek. The average wage loss per worker was 15 percent. Class and collective actions are helpful, but more resources are needed to assist individual employees who are being cheated on pay or subjected to unlawful working conditions. We are fortunate to live in a state that has strong wage and hour laws, but those laws don’t enforce themselves. Workers need advocates, whether it’s individual attorneys, agencies like Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries or Seattle’s Office of Labor Standards, or legal aid organizations like the Fair Work Center.”

Why does your firm support Fair Work Center?

TM: “The Terrell Marshall Law Group wants to support access to justice and to us, that’s what the Fair Work Center is all about. Our class action practice helps large groups of employees, but we know that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are many other workers out there who aren’t getting any help whatsoever. By educating workers about their rights and providing them with greater access to the courts, the Fair Work Center is making it more likely that employers will do the right thing and follow the law.”

Read more from Fair Work News:

Founding Donor Interview: Schroeter Goldmark & Bender

For this interview, we spoke with Lindsay Halm, Jamal Whitehead and Adam Berger from Schroeter Goldmark & Bender. Founding Donors have made deep, lasting investments in the success of Fair Work Center. 

This interview was conducted as a group over lunch and includes summaries of the discussion that we had.

LindsayHalm

Lindsay Halm

Why did you choose to practice employment law?

Lindsay Halm: At some point during law school I became convinced that I was going to be a public defender or a plaintiff’s attorney.  I wanted my career to focus on helping people who really need it. I am truly thankful to get to do the work that I do.

Jamal Whitehead: As someone who is part of several protected classes, I want to make sure the playing field is fair for all.

Adam Berger: Marty Garfinkel at our firm pulled me into employment law.  I became really involved in the Brink’s

Home Security case and have been hooked ever since. We set some exciting precedent that allows delivery drivers to

What are some challenges you see for workers today?

Jamal Whitehead

Jamal Whitehead

Discussion among all: The changing nature of work in our country today is one of the biggest challenges facing workers, and we see that taking many shapes: misclassification of workers (when employers classify workers as independent contractors instead of employees to avoid having to comply with labor standards employees are entitled to), more part-time jobs with little to no benefits, and the rise of the gig economy. The nature of work today makes it nearly impossible for low-wage workers to build a better future for their families and achieve the ever-elusive American dream.

Another issue we see is increasing fragmentation of the workplace. Many people don’t know who their employer is or who they technically work for, given the prevalence of subcontracting today. If you clean the offices at a tech firm downtown, is your employer the tech firm or the contractor they hired to clean? It is incredibly difficult to hold your employer accountable to following the law if you don’t know who, exactly, is your employer.

We’ve also seen a steep decline of unionized workforces in the last few decades, which leads to depressed wages for both union and non-union workers.  It also means, of course, that workers don’t have the power they need to negotiate better wages and working conditions.

What change would you like to see to improve the welfare of all working people?

Adam Berger

Adam Berger

Discussion among all: We really see Seattle as the testing ground for implementing and enforcing multiple cutting edge laws aimed at lifting up and protecting workers. We hope Seattle continues to lead the country in this regard.

Everyone in our employment group recognizes that there is a huge outstanding need to support the high volume of small claims that many private firms like ours do not have the capacity to take on. Workers need greater access to justice, so the work of Fair Work Center and the Seattle Office of Labor Standards is incredibly important.

Why does your firm support Fair Work Center?

Discussion among all: We support Fair Work Center because it is helping to fill this hole in our local legal community by supporting Seattle in implementing its new labor laws and providing support to workers with small claims and other issues on the job.  And the fact that Fair Work Center provides hands-on training and mentoring to students at our local law schools helps shape the future generation of lawyers into allies and advocates for workers. Bravo!

 

Read more from Fair Work News:

Founding Donor Interview: Frank Freed Subit & Thomas

For this interview we spoke with Mike Subit from Frank Freed Subit & Thomas. Founding Donors have made deep, lasting investments in the success of Fair Work Center.

Why did you choose to practice employment law?

Going into law school, I knew I wanted to practice some sort of civil rights or constitutional law when I got done. At the time, I would have guessed I’d go into a career with someplace like the ACLU. And I actually did work for the ACLU for a couple of years early in my career, but it was as a summer associate at a labor and employment firm in the Bay Area that I got a taste for plaintiff-side employment law. So I took more labor and employment courses and by the time I was done with law school and after two federal clerkships, I knew it was the area of law I wanted to focus my career.

For so many of us, our work is fundamental to who we are. When people are stripped of their rights at work or aren’t getting fairly paid for their work, it can be devastating for them and their families, both economically and psychologically. I’ve always felt that practicing employment law enables me to do that public interest work that I went to law school for in the first place.

What are some challenges you see for workers today?

Elections matter. Changes in the courts matter. I have been through some different administrations, but we are now dealing with the greatest challenge we have seen since the New Deal. We are going to have an administration that will be the most anti-worker, anti-union administration since Calvin Coolidge. I think workers are in for a host of challenges – from gutting labor standards to attacks on unions to undoing some of the good work the Department of Labor has been engaged in under the Obama administration.

Thankfully we are in a region and a state with relatively strong laws for workers, so we will devote our time to improving lives of workers at state and local levels over the next few years.

What change would you like to see to improve the welfare of all working people?

I would like to get rid of employment at will – the employment law principle that allows employees to be discharged for no reason. I believe ending it would help both employers and employees. It would improve both the appearance and the reality of fair treatment in the workplace. I would like to replace it with some sort of cause provision, similar to what you see in union contracts. I think it would help lead to faster resolutions for both sides, help avoid costly litigation, and, as we see among workers with cause provisions in their union contracts, it makes a big difference in the empowerment of workers to have greater control over your conditions at work.

Why does your firm support Fair Work Center?

There are so many unmet needs in terms of resources for workers to exercise their rights, particularly fair wages. Private law firms don’t have enough lawyers to do the work, and even with the current system that encourages attorneys to take such cases on, a lot of cases still don’t make sense for a firm to take on financially. A clinic has different goals and orientations and can provide more resources to the people who need it and to people who might otherwise fall through the cracks. Also, we fully support the Legal Clinic’s role in training the next generation of lawyers that will devote their lives to help working people achieve their rights.

 

Read more from Fair Work News:

Fair Work Legal Clinic Case Briefs

Below are a sampling of cases that have come in to the Fair Work Legal Clinic since officially opening in September 2016. Names and other identifying information have been changed to protect the privacy of these workers.

Intake Cases

Abdirahman recently arrived in King County as a refugee from Somalia. Somali Community Services, a Fair Work Collaborative partner, referred Abdirahman to Fair Work Center after he was offered a job as a security guard only to have it rescinded. A routine background check falsely reported he had criminal convictions from another state. Abdirahman needed that job and he knew it was a case of mistaken identity. The same day he came into the Fair Work Legal Clinic, we accompanied him to the King County Courthouse and cleared his record. Abdirahman didn’t need a lawyer, he needed an advocate, and he found one at the Fair Work Legal Clinic.

Leticia worked as a delivery driver for a small company that contracts with Amazon to make its Prime deliveries. Leticia was injured on a delivery and discovered that because her employer treated her as an “independent contractor,” she was not entitled to Workers’ Compensation. She was also paid substantially below minimum wage. The Legal Clinic helped Leticia sort out her Workers’ Compensation paperwork and find a lawyer to support her case. The Legal Clinic also referred her case to the US Department of Labor, which is investigating the minimum wage problems.

Chelsea worked for a manufacturing company in Seattle. After becoming pregnant, her doctor said that she needed light duty work assignments or risk a miscarriage. Chelsea’s employer told her that light duty was reserved for workplace injuries and not available for pregnancy. Chelsea was left without a job and was forced to move in with her mother in Alabama. Worse, she lost the baby. She knew her employer was in the wrong and that there must be something she could do. She came to the Fair Work Legal Clinic after exhausting every other possible route. The Legal Clinic persuaded the Washington Attorney General to take the case on and file a lawsuit against Chelsea’s employer.

Community Clinic and Direct Representation Cases

Maria worked for a dry-cleaning company on the night shift.  She became sick and was not able to go into work. Upon calling in sick, her manager told her to “not bother coming back in” and withheld her final paycheck. Maria knew this wasn’t right and came to Fair Work Legal Clinic seeking support. The Legal Clinic took on individual representation of her case and demanded payment of that final check. We were successful in getting Maria paid and continue to pursue additional penalties and remedies for retaliation.

Kim is an immigrant from Korea who worked as an assistant to a hairdresser. She answered phones, greeted customers, swept up hair, and provided tea and snacks.  She worked 45 hours per week but was paid just $1,000 per month, less than $5.50 per hour. Her employer thought that she could take advantage of Kim’s uncertain immigration status and her desire to break into the personal care industry, telling her that she was not an employee but an “independent contractor.” Kim knew this was unfair and was referred to the Legal Clinic by 21 Progress, one of our Fair Work Collaborative partners. The Clinic took on representation of Kim and filed a charge on her behalf, which is currently under investigation by Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries.

 Jose worked as a painter for a large construction firm. The firm told Jose that he was an “independent contract” and, therefore, not entitled to any overtime. Jose found a lawyer to sue the employer for wage theft, but the lawyer abandoned the case, leaving Jose to navigate the court system on his own. After Jose did not respond to one of the employer’s motions, the suit was dismissed and fines were imposed on Jose. He sought help from other lawyers without success. The Legal Clinic has been able to negotiate with the employer to resolve the case and help Jose recover some of his losses.

 

Read more from Fair Work News:

Fair Work Legal Clinic Now Open

This Labor Day, Fair Work Center is proud to announce the opening of its new civil legal aid clinic, the Fair Work Legal Clinic. The clinic will offer low-wage workers free intake and referral services, legal advice at its monthly community clinics, and legal representation. The clinic is operated in partnership with the Seattle University and University of Washington Schools of Law, and will be the first clinic associated with the King County Bar Association’s Neighborhood Legal Clinic program that focuses exclusively on workplace issues.

“Low-wage workers face serious barriers to justice when they raise workplace issues,” said Nicole Vallestero Keenan, Executive Director. “Fair Work Center is already supporting workers to address these challenges, but this new clinic means workers now have a place to turn to when they need legal aid, whether that is in filing a claim with a government enforcement agency or representing them in a court case against their employer.”

“Fair Work Center helped me recover nearly $5,000 in wages my employer owed me,” said Anna, a janitorial worker. “My daughter and I were about to be evicted, but thanks to the support of Fair Work Center, I was able to get the wages I was owed and stay in my apartment.”

According to the 2015 Washington State Civil Legal Needs Study Update, one-in-three low-income people (33.6%) experience workplace legal issues. Yet, it is not an area in which workers are seeking or getting legal help.

“I am thrilled to open this new legal clinic, which is so desperately needed and will help bridge a gap in the civil legal aid available to low-wage workers,” said Elizabeth Ford, Legal Director at Fair Work Center. “We will be training the next generation of attorneys who will shape employment law for decades to come.”

Ford, an experienced labor and employment lawyer, is also faculty at Seattle University School of Law, where she will teach a Workers’ Rights Clinical Course based at the Fair Work Center. The course will be offered to both Seattle University (beginning this fall) and University of Washington (beginning in 2017) law students. Students will get hands-on experience in employment law by staffing the community clinics, holding regular office hours for workers seeking legal information, and representing workers in wage claims.

“We are absolutely thrilled that this clinic is becoming a reality and offered here at Seattle University,” said Annette Clark, Dean and Professor of Law at Seattle University School of Law. “It is a perfect fit with our mission of educating powerful advocates for justice.”

“We are thrilled to partner with the Fair Work Center and Seattle University to address the pressing legal needs of the low-wage worker community,” said Christine Cimini, Associate Dean for Experiential Education and Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law. “In addition to helping low-wage workers, we are excited to provide this real-life valuable educational opportunity to law students.”

In addition to opening the new legal clinic, the Fair Work Center is one of three sites nationally to test WorkerReport, a new mobile app that allows anyone to easily report a workplace violation. Once the violation is reported, the Fair Work Legal Clinic will investigate and provide assistance to the worker involved. WorkerReport is now available for download on Apple and Android devices.

How One City Is Making Sure Bosses Comply With Wage Theft and Paid Sick Leave Laws

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a cornerstone of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, claims (with good reason) that its penne mac and cheese is the finest in America. Dining at Beecher’s is a must.

Working there may be less advisable. Deric Cole, an Army vet, worked at Beecher’s for seven months, beginning in 2014. He says that turnover was so high that when he quit, he was a senior employee. Shifts varied from day to day, he adds, sometimes starting at 3 a.m. and occasionally lasting up to 15 hours. Cole says that while Beecher’s technically offered overtime, those who managed to accrue it were punished, and employees were even asked to work off the clock. Cole also alleges that Beecher’s ignored Seattle’s 2012 paid sick leave ordinance and refused to grant any paid time off for illness.

Fed up, Cole eventually brought these complaints to a new city agency designed to help in cases like his: the Office of Labor Standards (OLS), one of the first of its kind in the United States.

Over the past five years, Seattle has implemented sweeping labor laws, instituting paid sick leave, discouraging discrimination against those with prison records, incrementally raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2017 and strengthening wage-theft protections.

But these new laws can’t enforce themselves. One year after OLS’s creation, people like Cole will be among the first to test Seattle’s experiment. Although San Francisco originated the model over a decade ago, it has been slow to catch on. Seattle’s new endeavor could push other cities to adopt enforcement mechanisms for local labor laws.

Read more at inthesetimes.com

Fair Work Collaborative Will Support Thousands of Workers in Seattle

Fair Work Center is the largest recipient of City of Seattle’s Labor Standards Enforcement Grant

With new wage laws now in effect in Seattle, many workers are still struggling to see their rights achieved under the law. Since Seattle’s progressive movement fought for and won a $15 minimum wage, our community is now at the forefront of seeking innovative public/private/community partnerships to conduct outreach, enforcement and education on our new labor laws.

Just this morning, the City of Seattle announced the recipients of the $1 million Community Fund to support outreach, education and enforcement of Seattle’s Labor Standards. As the convener of the Fair Work Collaborative, a partnership of eight community-based partners, Fair Work Center is thrilled to be the largest recipient of the fund.

The Fair Work Center empowers workers to achieve fair employment. We are a hub for workers to understand and exercise their legal rights, improve working conditions and connect with community resources.

Since we launched in June, we have brought together a talented board and staff with over 100 years of combined experience in labor standards enforcement, outreach and community engagement. We launched a collaborative to spread the word about worker’s rights, supported dozens of workers whose rights have been violated at work, and developed comprehensive “Know Your Rights” trainings for workers and the community at large.

Workers with questions about the phase-in of $15/hour minimum wage, securing paid sick leave, or other issues can connect with Fair Work Center online at fairworkcenter.org; through our helpline at 1-844-485-1195, or by email at help@fairworkcenter.org. The center provides services in Vietnamese, Spanish, Somali and English. The Fair Work Center offices are located at 5308 Martin Luther King Jr Way South.