Fair Work News – December 2018

Fair Work Center is a hub for workers to understand and exercise their rights on the job. This edition of Fair Work News brings you stories of what justice on the job looks like for workers who were victims of wage theft, discrimination and more. Read on to learn how the Fair Work Legal Clinic is recovering workers’ stolen wages and helping enforce laws like Seattle’s Public Accommodations Ordinance and Hotel Employee Health & Safety Initiative.

The Queen Mary Tea Room gets on board

Coleman worked as a server at the Queen Mary Tea Room in North Seattle. Coleman, who is non-binary, noticed that the Tea Room maintained gender-exclusive bathrooms, with “ladies” and “gentlemen” written on the outside of each door. Indeed, the tea room had been cited by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights several times for violation of Seattle’s Public Accommodations Ordinance, which, among other things, requires all single-occupant restrooms to be gender-neutral restrooms. After each citation, the owner took down the signs, but moved them from the outside to the inside of the door or replaced them with pink and blue ribbons. Coleman raised this concern with the management, but nothing was done. Soon after, Coleman was terminated. Fair Work Center filed suit on Coleman’s behalf and negotiated a settlement by which the Queen Mary Tea Room compensated Coleman, agreed to change its practice and hosted a staff training on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination by LGBTQ Allyship, one of our collaborative partners.

Wage theft at a residential construction company

Martin served as a foreman at a residential construction company. Most of the workers on his crew primarily spoke Spanish, and because Martin was more fluent in English, he served as a communicator with the employer to determine and secure payments for the jobs his crew worked. These contracts between the workers and the employer were oral and based in trust that both sides would uphold their end of the deal. This trust was broken when the employer refused to pay Martin and his peers for their work.

Unfamiliar with the law and unaware of any legal recourse available to him and his coworkers, Martin came to Fair Work Center worried that he would not be able to secure payment for their work. This money was essential to their livelihood. We assisted Martin in preparing a demand letter and filing his case in small claims court. The week before his scheduled court hearing in September, the employer paid Martin and his coworkers everything they were owed. Just as we are certain that Martin will continue to stand up for his fellow workers with the information he learned from visiting Fair Work Center, we are certain that his former employer will think twice before trying to exploit its employees again.

Local Montessori school learns a lesson

Leslie has been a teacher for most of her career. Recently, she took a job as an assistant teacher at a Montessori school in King County. She initially contacted Fair Work Center with questions about her employee handbook. Specifically, she wanted to know if she was entitled to receive pay for a week-long vacation. While looking through her paychecks, we discovered inconsistencies with nearly every one. She worked for the Montessori school for several months, but only one of her paychecks in that time was accurate. We calculated a total of 84.5 hours of missing wages, equivalent to nearly $2,500. We helped Leslie file a case in small claims court this fall, and we will be supporting her throughout the process.

Cleaning up

An undocumented immigrant looking for work, Beatriz was excited to take a job cleaning apartments in an affluent Bellevue neighborhood. Soon after she was hired, her employer doubled the number of apartments she needed to clean each day, regardless of how long it took. Beatriz tried but quickly found it was impossible to complete her duties without working a 12-hour shift, something she could not do as a mother with children at home.

When she tried speaking up about her workload and asking for a raise to compensate for the extra work, her employer cut off communication and disappeared without ever paying her for the days she already worked. Unsure of her rights and concerned about retaliation from the employer with regard to her immigration status, Beatriz came to Fair Work Center to learn what protections she had and how she could get paid. After discussing her options, we assisted Beatriz in gathering evidence and filing a complaint with L&I. Two weeks later, L&I informed her that her complaint was processed, and she would be paid the $602 in wages she was owed.

Delivering justice for delivery driver

Yakub first came to Fair Work Center in 2017. As a delivery driver for a small company that contracts with Amazon and others, Yakub started his day bright and early and worked long hours, but he enjoyed his work. Unfortunately, trouble struck soon after he started. He received a ticket because his employer’s van did not have proof of insurance. Instead of paying for the ticket or working with Yakub, the employer tried to put the responsibility on him. In addition, the employer refused to pay him his final paycheck of more than $1,000. We helped Yakub assess different options for getting paid and assisted him in filing his case in small claims court.

He returned recently, almost a year later, with great news – he received a small claims judgment for almost $2,000! The payment covered his final paycheck, the ticket, and associated filing fees. But he also had some bad news. The employer was refusing to pay him and he had no idea how to get his money. By researching the different methods of collecting on a judgment, we helped prepare and file a writ of garnishment against the employer, thereby allowing him to collect the money he was owed.

Hotel worker stands up for health & safety

Lucie is a housekeeper at a hotel in Seattle. Her employer failed to comply with the Hotel Employee Health and Safety Initiative, which limits the amount of cleaning work hotel workers can be required to do in a shift. Not surprisingly, she was injured as the result and asked for light duty while she recovered. The hotel refused her request and, instead, fired her.

Lucie came to Fair Work Center distraught having lost her income, health insurance, and the ability to pay her mounting medical bills. We recognized that Lucie’s immediate medical needs could be covered by workers’ compensation insurance, so we assisted Lucie in filing her claim with the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). We also connected Lucie with the Seattle Office of Civil Rights to make a complaint of disability discrimination for the hotel’s failure to accommodate her disability and termination. Finally, we connected Lucie with advocates for hotel workers, and we will continue assisting her as needed in addressing the hotel’s ongoing violations of the initiative.


Please note: We moved! Our new offices are located at 116 Warren Ave N, Suite A | Seattle, WA 98109 (map)

Summer 2018 Fair Work News

 

Hello and welcome to the Summer 2018 edition of the Fair Work News!

My name is Rachel, and I am the new Executive Director of Fair Work Center and Working Washington.

Rachel Lauter

Yes, you read that right, I am the new ED of both organizations!

Fair Work Center and Working Washington are coming together to build a powerful, sustainable and scalable worker organization to advance worker and economic justice in Washington and beyond.

By aligning the legal, community education, advocacy and organizing strategies of each organization, we will bring a comprehensive approach to supporting workers in Seattle and throughout Washington. We’ll be a one-stop shop for low-wage workers, connecting them with efforts to change policies impacting their lives or with the legal services and support they need to achieve fair employment and get justice on the job.

Fair Work Center is known for our community-based approach to workers’ rights and enforcement of labor standards. Our deep relationships with nonprofit organizations in the region enable us to engage low-wage workers most likely to be victims of workplace violations, including low-wage women, people of color, immigrants and refugees, LGBTQ people, and young people.

Working Washington is known for its groundbreaking campaigns to raise standards for workers, including leading the fast food worker strikes that led to $15 in Seattle, passing the nation’s first secure scheduling ordinance, and creating new standards for domestic workers long operating in the shadows of labor and employment law.  

Together, we will help shape the 21st Century workers’ movement in our region.

You can already see it in action. The Seattle City Council just passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, a historic law that sets minimum standards for domestic workers and establishes a standards board that will serve as a new model of worker organizing. Working Washington was a central partner in the Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance, the coalition that advocated for the bill, and the Fair Work Center stands ready to educate workers about these new standards and enforce the new law.

I’m honored to take on this role and am eager for the challenge ahead. Organizations like Fair Work Center and Working Washington are playing increasingly vital roles in building and sustaining power for low-wage, unrepresented workers, and together we can accomplish so much more than either organization can on its own.

I started on May 29 and my first order of business is finding a new space to house the 20 or so staff that make up both organizations. You can read more about my background hereThere will be more changes coming, so stay tuned and let me know if you have any ideas for ways we can do more for low-wage workers in Washington.

In Solidarity,

Rachel

Summer 2018 Fair Work News

Read more

STATEMENT REGARDING TODAY’S RULING IN JANUS V. AFSCME

 “Today’s ruling abandons over 40 years of precedent. It shows five judges can’t handle the truth that strong labor unions have played a central role in building a more equitable economy and putting meaningful checks & balances on corporate power.

The Janus case came before the court as the result of a decades-long, multi-billion-dollar campaign to shift money and power from workers to the wealthy. It also came with an accidental poetic flourish: Janus is the Roman god of beginnings and endings, of change and transition, of passageways connecting past and future.

Here in Washington, we’re already leading the way to new futures for workers rights. Working Washington and Fair Work Center have partnered with unions and community groups over the past several years to win the nation’s first $15 minimum wage law, Seattle’s landmark secure scheduling ordinance, paid sick days, paid family leave, and more. We’ve scaled up new approaches to community-based outreach & enforcement of worker rights laws. We’re building a groundbreaking Seattle Domestic Workers Alliance that will take nannies & house cleaners from invisible to powerful. And more.

And regardless of what economic realities the Supreme Court chooses to dismiss, workers in our state will continue to build their power and organize towards a world where everyone can support themselves, contribute to the economy, and participate in our communities.”

— Rachel Lauter, Executive Director of Working Washington and Fair Work Center

2017 Annual Report

We are excited to share Fair Work Center’s 2017 Annual Report. 2017 was a year of growth for Fair Work Center. We expanded our outreach team and added new partners to the Fair Work Collaborative to reach more low-wage workers with information about their rights at work. We bolstered the Fair Work Legal Clinic by adding two new staff attorneys, doubling the size of our clinic staff and more than doubling our capacity to provide free legal services. And we stepped up our advocacy at the state and local level to broaden our impact for all workers, not just those we see in our day to day work.

We are grateful for all the people and organizations that support Fair Work Center and make this work possible. With the incredible challenges workers face at the national level, Fair Work Center will continue to grow and evolve in 2018 to ensure workers in our region have access to justice on the job.

Click here to view Fair Work Center’s 2017 Annual Report.

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.


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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.


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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!


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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.


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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.


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May ’17 Fair Work News

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,

 

 

Nicole Vallestero Keenan
Executive Director


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