When Andres E. Munoz worked labor-intensive jobs in retail and food service, and at warehouses during high school and college, he saw injustices in the workplace that shaped his career goals. His focus on labor and employment law and his passion for workers' rights has earned him the inaugural Seattle University School of Law Frances Perkins Fellowship at the Unemployment Law Project.
The fellowship is a unique partnership between the law school's Access to Justice Institute and the Unemployment Law Project (ULP), a statewide, nonprofit law firm established to assist and represent unemployed workers.
Named for the former U.S. Secretary of Labor and the first female cabinet member, who helped establish unemployment insurance, the Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act, the fellowship will allow ULP to expand its capacity to help workers who lose their jobs, and must maintain stability for themselves and their families while they search for new employment. Munoz will provide direct representation, advice, legal education and community outreach to those who have been denied unemployment benefits or whose award of benefits is being challenged.
"It's far too common in workplaces that employers have power over the employees. There's a vast inequity in that power dynamic," said Munoz, a May 2015 graduate. "This is exactly the kind of work I want to be doing. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity."
Munoz will bring a wealth of experience to the fellowship. He minored in labor studies at the University of Washington and interned at ULP last summer. He also served as a law clerk for Heyrich Kalish McGuigan Employment Attorneys LLP, assisting with cases involving discrimination, sexual harassment, wage-and-hour claims, wrongful termination and retaliation, among others, and served as a judicial extern at the Washington Supreme Court for Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud.
In law school, Munoz was a content development editor for the Seattle Journal for Social Justice, director of special events for the Labor and Employment Law Association, and community service director for the Latino Law Student Association. He has organized volunteer opportunities for students, including the monthly legal clinics at El Centro de la Raza where students translate for Spanish-speaking clients.
"Andres has been an effective advocate for the unemployed," said ULP Executive Director John Tirpak. "His community experience will be a strong asset to the program when we begin outreach to immigrant communities in the Seattle area."
The fellowship will provide a salary, health and professional insurance, paid vacation and sick leave, and professional development opportunities. Social justice champions Jim Degel, a 1980 SU law grad, and Jeanne Berwick provided critical funding to kick-start this new partnership opportunity with ULP, which is also providing financial support. Degel and Berwick have generously supported post-graduate fellowships for SU School of Law alumni in hopes of creating the next generation of social justice-minded lawyers.