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.

Fair Work Center Helps Workers Muddle Through New Labor Standards

In the past three years, Seattle has enacted four new citywide laws, and it’s not just the $15 minimum wage. There’s the Job Assistance ordinance, which limits how employers can use criminal records; the Wage Theft ordinance, which offers protections when employers illegally withhold pay; and the Paid Sick and Safe Time ordinance, which ensures that employees accrue paid time off for illness. 

But understanding their ins and outs, or even recognizing when an employer is violating them, can be tricky. To help workers navigate these new laws, local policy experts and community organizers created a new nonprofit called the Fair Work Center. 

“It’s a one-stop shop to figure out what to do when your rights are violated at work,” said Director Nicole Vallestero Keenan. Read the full story at at realchangenews.org.

Confused About Your Rights As a Worker? A New Non-Profit Has You Covered

Crosscut Daily Troll:

Following the recent raising of the minimum wage in Seattle to $15 an hour, many employees in the Emerald City may be a little confused about their rights. The Fair Work Center, a non-profit, has launched and will partner with a law clinic at the University of Washington. “Seattle is fortunate to have a suite of newly adopted labor laws, including one of the highest minimum wages in the country,” said Fair Work Center’s Director Nicole Vallestero Keenan. The center will help workers make sense of their rights under city laws about paid sick leave, wage theft protections and other issues as well as the minimum wage.

Fair Work Center Launches to Help Workers Navigate Seattle’s New Labor Laws

SEATTLE—With new wage laws now in effect in Seattle, the nonprofit Fair Work Center has launched to help workers better understand their rights and the city’s labor standards.

“Seattle is fortunate to have a suite of newly adopted labor laws, including one of the highest minimum wages in the country,” said Director Nicole Vallestero Keenan. “Fair Work Center has been established to help workers make sense of their rights to paid sick leave, wage theft protections, minimum wage and more.”

Read more at the Eastside Business Journal.

Los Angeles mayor enacts $15-an-hour minimum wage

LOS ANGELES — In becoming the largest city in the country to mandate a $15-an-hour minimum wage, Los Angeles could put the pressure on other cities in what is sure to become a potent issue in next year’s presidential election.

Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the measure into law Saturday. It will require employers to gradually raise minimum wages until they reach $15 an hour. The first step comes in July, 2016, when the minimum wage becomes $10.50. Then, each following year, it will rise another another step — $12, $13.50, $14.25 and then $15.

Read more at USAToday.