On Labor Day, Fair Work Center announced 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 law schools 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 Executive Director Nicole Vallestero Keenan. “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, this 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 among the faculty at Seattle University School of Law, where she will teach a Workers’ Rights Clinical Course based at 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 with wage claims.
“We are absolutely thrilled that this clinic is becoming a reality and offered here at Seattle University,” said SU Law Dean Annette Clark. “It is a perfect fit with our mission of educating powerful advocates for justice.”
Christine Cimini, associate dean for experiential education and professor of law at the University of Washington School of Law, also expressed her enthusiasm in partnering with Fair Work Center and Seattle University to address the pressing legal needs of the low-wage worker community. “In addition to helping low-wage workers,” she said, “we are excited to provide this real-
life, valuable educational opportunity to law students.”
In addition to opening the new legal clinic, Fair Work Center is one of three sites nationally to test WorkerReport,1 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 Apple2 and Android3 devices.
Fair Work Center is a nonprofit dedicated to helping workers understand and exercise their legal rights, improve working conditions, and connect with community resources. In the past year, Fair Work Center has talked with more than 5,000 people about their employment rights. In October, Fair Work Center begins a new project with the University of Washington Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences to offer health and safety clinics for low-wage, hard-to-reach workers. For more information, visit www.fairworkcenter.org.
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