What are ag workers saying about what real celebration and support would look like?

Agricultural workers in the Yakima Valley joined Fair Work Center on the radio last month as part of a program celebrating National Ag Workers’ Week. Workers shared the challenges they’re facing, how they’re organizing to assert and expand their rights, and what it would mean to truly feel that their work is valued and celebrated.

Many workers agreed that simply declaring a week in March to be Ag Worker Celebration Week was not enough to truly celebrate their work and support their communities. Instead, ag workers want action—and one thing we can do is ensure all ag workers get overtime pay when they work overtime hours by passing SB 5172. (UPDATE: this bill has passed the legislature and is on the Governor’s desk waiting to be signed into law!)

>>>Click here to tell your state representative to support ag workers and pass SB 5172 without amendments when it comes to the House floor for a vote.

What else are ag workers saying about what real celebration and support would look like?


“To me, celebrating farmworkers would mean meeting our community’s needs. I’m not sure what celebrating us looks like if it doesn’t also mean real enforcement of our rights on the job.”

“The state government doesn’t have enough inspectors to keep watch on every farmer and every company. Farmers know that and so they do what they want. That’s why as workers, we have to take care of one another and come together to support one another.”

“We always see abuses against workers—where I work, sometimes our supervisors don’t want to give us our sick hours. And if you try to use your right to paid sick leave, they get mad and take it out on you. Things are still really unjust in our industry—which is why we’ve got to organize and enforce our rights.”

“To actually celebrate us, that would mean passing immigration reform for workers. Many of us are undocumented—even though we have many years working in agriculture. We’re essential workers…and it’s time for the government to support us with immigration reform so that we can work freely.”

“Celebrating us means companies treating us with the respect we deserve as workers.”


Workers shared personal stories about the labor rights violations they face on a daily basis: assault and harassment by management, physical and emotional stress, lack of adequate safety equipment, wage theft, lack of legally-required breaks, and working overtime hours without getting paid overtime. You can click here to listen to the full Spanish-language radio program.

UPDATE: SB 5171 has passed the Legislature and was delivered to the Governor on April 26! Governor Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law, ensuring that all agricultural workers have the right to earn overtime pay when they work overtime hours and eliminating this longstanding racist exclusion in our labor laws.

¿Qué dicen los trabajadores agrícolas sobre cómo podemos celebrar su trabajo de verdad?

La semana pasada, algunos trabajadores agrícolas del Valle de Yakima participaron en un programa de radio junto con Fair Work Center para celebrar la Semana Nacional de Trabajadores Campesinos. Compartieron historias de los retos que enfrentan en el trabajo, cómo están organizando para exigir y expandir sus derechos, y que sería una manera para que se sintieran de verdad que su trabajo fuera valorado y celebrado por nuestra sociedad. 

Muchos trabajadores dijeron que una sola semana en marzo para celebrarlos no es suficiente para realmente honrar su trabajo y aportar a sus comunidades. En vez de una semana de celebración, los trabajadores pidieron que tomamos acción para proteger sus derechos—y algo que podemos hacer ahora es aprobar a SB 5172 y asegurar que todos los trabajadores agrícolas reciban un pago extra cuando trabajan horas extras. 

>>>Haga clic aquí para contactar a sus representantes estatales y pedir que aprueben SB 5172 sin enmiendas cuando haya un voto en la Cámara de Representantes.

¿Qué más dicen los trabajadores agrícolas sobre lo que sería una celebración verdadera de su trabajo?

“Que festejaremos de verdad, es de si habrá esta reforma migratoria para trabajadores. La mayoría no tienen documentos—y tienen años trabajando en la agricultura. Somos trabajadores esenciales…que el gobierno nos apoye con esta reforma migratoria para que podamos trabajar libremente 

El gobierno estatal no tiene los oficiales suficientes para estar vigilando cada ranchero, cada compañía. Así que es los rancheros si saben esto…y ellos hacen lo que los da la ganas, entonces los trabajadores tenemos que ser los responsables para cuidarse nosotros mismos. 

“Siempre vemos abusos contra los trabajadores, a veces los mayordomos no quieren darnos las horas de enfermedad. Y si una vez reclames tus horas de enfermedad, se enojan. Es muy injusto todavía. Se hay que hacer valer los derechos.” 

“Para mi, celebrarnos sería las formas de apoyar a los campesinos con lo que nos hace falta…De verdad no se de que se trata de celebrar, sino más bien exigirnos los derechos.”

Celebrarnos significa que las compañías nos den el respeto que merecemos como trabajadores.”

Los trabajadores también compartieron historias de los varios retos que enfrentan en el trabajo agrícola: el acoso, el estrés, la falta de equipo de protección, el robo de salario, los patrones quitando los breaks, y trabajo fuera de tiempo de pago. Haga clic aquí para escuchar al programa de radio archivado.

Cómo podemos tomar acción

Ahora en el estado de WA, la legislatura estatal tiene una oportunidad de eliminar una exclusión racista en nuestras leyes y asegurar que todos los trabajadores agrícolas reciben un pago extra cuando trabajan horas extras. 

SB 5172 eliminará la exclusión de los trabajadores campesinos de las protecciones de horas extras. Esta propuesta ya se aprobó el Senado Estatal entero, e igual se aprobaron dos comités en la Cámara de Representantes Estatal. Pronto, habrá un voto en la Cámara de Representantes entera, así que estamos a punto de convertir esta propuesta en ley!

Pero aliados del comercio agrícola van a intentar pedir enmiendas al último momento para restringir la fuerza de la propuesta y ablandar los derechos de algunos trabajadores agrícolas. Entonces hay que levantar nuestras voces y exigir nuestros derechos! Añade tu voz para asegurar que los Representantes nos escuchan y votan para aprobar SB 5172 sin enmiendas. 

CONTACTE TUS REPRESENTANTES:

DILES QUE ASEGUREN EL PAGO DE OVERTIME 

PARA TODOS LOS TRABAJADORES AGRÍCOLAS

In solidarity with the movement for Black lives

Dear Working Washington / Fair Work Center community:

Our organization stands in solidarity with the movement for Black lives and the powerful protests in Seattle, across Washington, and all across this country. We join the call for dignity and justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, James Scurlock, David McAtee, Charleena Lyles, and the thousands of other Black lives taken by police officers and white supremacist violence.

We condemn Seattle’s dangerous response to these ongoing protests, including the Seattle Police Department’s use of violent crowd control tactics to silence the voices of Black organizers and allies. Police have used tear gas, flash-bangs, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on protestors without provocation. We call on Mayor Durkan to halt police escalation and to stop imposing curfews that discourage protesting and result in violence and mass arrests. We also call on all Washington leaders to stop using these tactics in communities throughout the state.

We know that there is no worker justice without racial justice. Workers’ rights organizations like ours must prioritize and raise up the issues faced by Black workers in and out of work. Many of our community members are directly impacted by racism and police violence, and our movement must support Black organizers who are on the ground fighting for justice.

Therefore, in the coming weeks we will amplify and support Black-led organizations that hold the police accountable, fight against racist violence, and lift up communities. We also commit to being a resource for Black workers and organizations. Black people are systemically denied access to jobs, disproportionately work in industries excluded from basic labor standards, and are experiencing disproportionate levels of unemployment in the current economic crisis.

And we join the call to defund police. In this moment and  this economic crisis, we see a moral imperative to invest more in our communities and spend less on policing and violence.

One concrete, immediate way to show your support: consider making a contribution to the Northwest Community Bail Fund or the Black Lives Matter Seattle Bail Fund.

 

In Solidarity,

Rachel Lauter, Executive Director
Working Washington / Fair Work Center

 

This statement was originally published June 3, 2020 on the Working Washington website.

Landmark ruling affirms protections for LGBTQ workers nationwide

It’s now official: across the country, it is illegal for your employer to fire you or otherwise discriminate against you based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s because of a ruling last month by the US Supreme Court, a landmark civil rights victory that will protect millions of workers across the United States from unlawful discrimination. 

With federal anti-discrimination laws in the news, it’s a good time to get familiar with Washington State’s anti-discrimination laws. Thankfully, LGBTQ workers in our state have been protected from discrimination at work since Washington’s own landmark legislation in 2006. And, in fact, our state law goes further than federal law in protecting LBGTQ rights in other areas of life, too. 

LGBTQ workers are protected from employment discrimination. Your employer cannot discriminate against you based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. This covers all aspects of your employment, such as in applying and interviewing, hiring and firing, discipline, promotion, layoffs, and work environment.

State law also protects your right to stand up for your rights on the job. That means your boss can’t retaliate against you when you raise concerns about discrimination you’re experiencing at work. 

In addition to protections from employment discrimination, LGBTQ people in Washington also have the right to be free from discrimination in other key aspects of life:

  • Housing: Landlords can’t refuse to rent to you or lie to you about the availability of a rental property because of your gender identity or sexual orientation. 
  • Public accommodation: You can’t be refused entry, participation, or service in places that provide goods and services to the public – that means places like restaurants, theaters, hotels, hospitals, libraries, gas stations, retail stores, and more. 
  • Credit and Insurance: You can’t be refused credit or insurance services because of your LGBTQ identity.

If you are being discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, we encourage you to reach out to Q Law or the Lavender Rights Project. Our legal clinic would normally be a resource as well for employment-based discrimination you may be experiencing, but we are currently closed to new cases as we manage a large volume of other cases.

COVID-19 Resources for Workers

Workers across WA are facing severe impacts of the coronavirus crisis: layoffs, hours cuts, issues with sick pay and childcare, and hazards on the job. Follow the link below to a guide we created to help you navigate what kinds of rights & benefits you can access.

This list includes your rights & benefits under pre-existing WA laws, and new rights & benefits that are available due to emergency measures. (New measures are being passed frequently — we’ll update the page frequently.)

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS & OPTIONS:

💻 EMAIL CORONAVIRUSINFO@WORKINGWA.ORG
📱 CALL 844-485-1195
⚠️ SIGN UP FOR WA WORKER ALERTS FOR UPDATES

Honoring Omar & the 76 workers who died on the job last year

Employers are failing in their responsibility to provide safe workplaces, especially in the agricultural industry. Last year, 76 workers across the state died on the job from traumatic health and safety incidents. One of those workers was Omar Gomez Lopez, a hop picker from Central Washington who was killed in a tragic equipment malfunction.

Last month, Fair Work Center and Working Washington hosted the inaugural Omar Gomez Lopez Farmworker Rights Training and vigil in Grandview. Friends and family members of Omar’s were in attendance, as well as dozens of agricultural workers. Omar’s wife Rebecca said, “My heart is broken because there’s kids with no dad or no mom out there — and this continues to happen. At the training, I was so happy because I saw a lot of workers there learning what their rights are and what’s out there for them, and it made my heart at peace for a while.”

In the wake of Omar’s death, Rebecca has decided to take action to improve workplace safety.

She invited family and friends & helped lead the training we held in Grandview. She’s been reaching out to community members to teach them about their rights, and has returned to school to study translation because she wants to make sure workers can learn about their rights in Spanish.

As Rebecca put it: “The training was the best thing that could have come out of Omar’s death. We brought the knowledge people needed, and let them know that they’re not alone and don’t need to be afraid.”

Everyone can help make our communities and our workplaces safer. Fair Work Center and Working Washington are holding regular trainings for farmworkers in central Washington. 

And over November 2-3, we’ll be hosting a vigil in honor of Omar and those 76 workers who died at the 2019 Día de Muertos Festival. Día de Muertos – or the Day of the Dead in English –  is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular, the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican heritage elsewhere. Día de Muertos celebrates the lives of those who passed with food, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life, and it is said that their spirits are awoken by the revelry and partake in the celebration.

We think it is a fitting way to honor the life of Omar and so many other immigrant farmworkers killed or injured on the job. Seattle’s festival is held at the Seattle Center Armory and runs all weekend. We hope you’ll attend to pay your respects, honor, and celebrate the life of Omar and others who needlessly died on the job.

September 23 is Nanny Day in Seattle!

Today, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council, led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, proclaimed September 23, 2019 to be Seattle Nanny Day. The proclamation comes as a part of National Nanny Recognition Week, a national effort to lift up and honor the work of nannies of the homes of millions of families across the country. While Seattle recently adopted a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, providing minimum wage and other basic standards to domestic workers in our city, most domestic workers around the country are excluded from federal labor standards.

“Thank you very much for giving nannies the recognition that our hard work deserves,” said Sandra Holten, nanny and member of the Seattle Nanny Collective. “Of course, we are proud to lead the way here in Seattle, but we ask you to join us to fight for the rights of domestic workers throughout the country.”

 

More than 2.5 million domestic workers across the country provide care to our children, our elders, our homes, and more. And yet nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers lack any protections under federal labor laws. So, in addition to recognizing and praising the work of nannies in Seattle, the Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation also calls for the passage of Congresswoman Jayapal’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. This bill would ensure nannies and domestic workers around United States have the same protections and standards as those here in Seattle.

Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda presenting the Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation to members of the Seattle Nanny Collective.

 

City of Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation

How much is the rest of your time worth?

Washington is boldly proposing to restore overtime protections to hundreds of thousands of salaried workers across the state. This could well be the biggest advancement in standards for workers since raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave through Initiative 1433. 

Caregiver from Richland, WA testifying in favor of restoring OT

This week, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries held public hearings in Ellensburg, Tri-Cities, and Spokane, to hear from people around the state what restoring overtime pay would mean to them. Working Washington and Fair Work Center were represented in each of these hearings to support the proposal to bring back time and a half pay to salaried workers.

There hearing from workers like Lauren, E., and Alec, who shared their overtime stories with L&I and Working Washington.

Lauren

Lauren is a volunteer coordinator at a nonprofit organization. “I didn’t have the option to miss an event if I was sick. We only had a staff of 2-3 people, some of whom were often working other events, so they wouldn’t have been able to cover for me. We had volunteers to help with the events, but our volunteers weren’t able to run events on their own. If I was responsible for the event, I had to be there. Taking on so much just wasn’t sustainable for the staff. I wanted to do well in my new job, be seen as a positive and flexible coworker, and learn new skills like managing volunteers and public speaking, so I was enthusiastic at first about working overtime and taking on so much. Just coming out of college I was used to spending a lot of time studying, so it didn’t occur to me, at least not right away, that I was sacrificing my health for my job.”

E. is a chef working for a catering company. They said: “My salary is $56K, and I’m not paid for overtime. Typically, I work a minimum of 50 hours a week, but over the last six months, I’ve been working 60-65 hours a week. Right now, the more I work, the less I make per hour. I make less money per hour than I did when I was an hourly worker, and that’s really depressing.”

Alec is a manager working in retail. He said: “My partner and I both work in customer service/retail. Every holiday season, I watch as my partner is expected to work up to 90 hours a week, getting paid only cents on the hour after he hits overtime. For every hour my partner works over 40, his hourly take home pay drops. Businesses are more than aware of their ability to take advantage of salaried employees below the overtime threshold and they do so — this is reprehensible and the state must put an end to it.”  

If you are an hourly worker, you should already be getting overtime when you work more than 40 hours in a week. (If you’re not getting overtime pay and you think you should be, contact us!) But almost no salaried workers in Washington qualify for overtime pay, because the overtime rules are so far out of date. By raising the salary threshold for overtime exemption to 2.5x the minimum wage, the proposal would restore overtime to more than 250,000 workers across the state, regardless of whether they’re classified salaried or hourly, and no matter what their job title is. It is critical the state hears from workers and supporters of the proposal because it is being met with fierce opposition from business and employer groups. Add your voice to Lauren’s, Alec’s, Chris’s, and thousands of others in calling for the state to restore overtime to salaried workers. Because our time counts. 

Workers at Pyramid Alehouse Settle Wage Theft Lawsuit for $450,000

Today, current and former workers at Pyramid Alehouse in SoDo are celebrating long overdue paychecks thanks to a big win in court. Yesterday morning, a judge with King County Superior Court finalized the $450,000 settlement of a class action wage-and-hour lawsuit that workers against Pyramid’s ownership group, Independent Brewers United, LLC. The average award for each worker in the settlement will be about $1,000, while the highest award in the class totals more than $9,800.

Scenes from the King Count Courthouse yesterday. From left to right: Britt Glass (attorney with Terrell Marshall Law Group), Brian Drew (a named plaintiff in the case), Danielle Alvarado (FWC), Jeremy Brotherton (worker in the class), Devon Blevins (FWC), Henny Ahn (FWC)

Brian Drew, a former bartender at the Alehouse and one of the named plaintiffs, has some advice to others working in the restaurant industry based on his experience in this case: “You get used to putting up with a certain amount of shenanigans when working in restaurants, and what is really needed is a culture change in the industry where people feel like they can stand up for what’s right. Too often we just go along with whatever management says because we know there is a line of people waiting to take whatever job we might have. But workers need to know they have rights and they can’t be fired for saying, ‘Hey something is wrong with my paycheck this week.’ And talk to your coworkers too. You’re not alone, and they’re probably experiencing the same things as you are.”

In the lawsuit, workers alleged several forms of wage theft and abuse during the years of 2014 to 2018. The allegations included:

  • Failure to provide meal and rest breaks
  • Failure to record and pay workers for all work hours
  • Manipulation of timesheets to delete hours worked (“time shaving”)
  • Failure to pay overtime for hours worked over 40 in a week
  • Failure to pay employees all service charges paid by customers
  • Failure to disclose to customers that not all banquet service charges collected went to the workers who provided services

In addition to paying their workers for the hours they worked, Pyramid will also be required to provide training to its workers so they know that whenever they are working, they must be on the clock.

“Food service workers are too often subjected to wage theft and other workplace abuses. With this settlement, we’re content the employer is being held accountable to the law and will have to change its practices. And we’re happy the workers will finally be getting paid the wages to which they’re entitled,” said Toby Marshall, a lawyer with Terrell Marshall Law Group.

“Class action employment cases like this help show that when workers stand together, they have the strength and the power to make serious changes in their work conditions,” said Rachel Lauter, Executive Director at Fair Work Center and Working Washington. “Fair Work Center is incredibly proud to play a role in bringing justice to workers at the Pyramid Alehouse in SoDo.”

In early 2018, workers from Pyramid Alehouse came to Fair Work Center seeking advice and support for discrepancies they were seeing in their paychecks. Fair Work Center is a nonprofit worker center that helps low-wage workers understand and exercise their rights at work through know your rights training and free legal services. Fair Work Center partnered with the employment litigation firm of Terrell Marshal Law Group to bring the case on behalf of the workers, which was filed in April of 2018.

Fighting for the rights of immigrant workers

Fair Work Center fights for the rights of immigrant workers every day. From our know your rights trainings and free legal services to our partnerships with immigrant community organizations, we stand with low-wage, immigrant workers fighting for their rights on the job.

Recently, we joined the fight for immigrant rights that has been raging for years at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma. The NWDC is a privately-operated, for-profit prison that contracts with the federal government to detain community members fighting their immigration cases. It is operated by the GEO Group, the 2nd largest private prison company in the country. GEO has long been under fire for the NWCD’s abysmal conditions and mistreatment of detainees, including those whose labor keeps the detention center running. GEO pays these detainee workers just $1 a day, even though Washington minimum wage is $12 an hour. For the record, $1 a day at the state minimum wage buys you about 5 minutes of work. GEO’s entire business model relies on stealing at least 91% of detainees’ wages, all while generating more than $2 billion in annual revenue. 

In September 2017, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued GEO Group for failing to pay detainee workers the state minimum wage. This summer, the Fair Work Center was asked to support the lawsuit by filing an amicus brief due to our expertise in enforcing minimum wage protections for Washington workers. An amicus brief is the legal term for providing expertise, information, or other insights to the court to aid in a case that isn’t your own. You can read the brief we filed in support of the Attorney General’s case here. In it we argue that Washington’s wage and hour laws apply to all employees, that wage theft is rampant in our economy, and that GEO is committing wage theft from detained workers. 

This lawsuit is about the value of work, and specifically the value of immigrant work. Immigrant workers, even detained immigrant workers, have the right to the legal minimum wage for their work.

As we argue in the brief, “wage theft is a systemic problem that disproportionately impacts vulnerable low-wage workers.” There probably isn’t a more vulnerable worker than a detained immigrant who faces deportation – but all employers in Washington have to follow the law, and all employees in Washington are covered.  By calling out GEO’s particularly egregious acts of wage theft, Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s lawsuit has the potential to put all employers on notice: no worker is ripe for exploitation in Washington, which is why Fair Work Center is proud to be lending our expertise to support the suit in this way.

Read the full amicus brief here, and remember to contact Fair Work Center if you or someone you know is having their rights violated at work.


PS – We are seeking third-year law students or recent law graduates interested in applying for public interest fellowships with Fair Work Center beginning in fall 2020, including Skadden, Equal Justice Workers, Justice Catalyst, and other independently funded programs. Learn more here!