Pre-Rulemaking Comments on Colorado Overtime and Minimum Pay Standards (COMPS)

Towards Justice regularly engages with the community, workers, and regulators to advance, expand and clarify worker protections. Just this week, Towards Justice provided comments describing ways that our state’s wage and hour law could be clarified through regulation. In particular, Towards Justice encouraged the CDLE to revise wage and hour law to ensure that all workers receive the best possible meal period when working more than 5 consecutive hours. These comments, and others Towards Justice shares with lawmakers, are informed by our experience representing workers in court, where we see the myriad ways that employers can chip away at workplace rights.

Read Towards Justice’s comments submitted to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment on September 14, 2021

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Support Colorado Agricultural Workers

This summer, Governor Jared Polis signed the Agricultural Workers’ Rights Bill, which extends workplace protections to agricultural workers that have long applied to other industries such as a minimum wage guarantee, the right to organize, meal and rest breaks, and enhanced safety protections during public health emergencies. This was a major victory, but the fight isn’t done! The bill also left several key areas to be decided by the Polis Administration.

Towards Justice, along with workers, labor unions, and dozens of other nonprofit and community groups are calling upon the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) and the Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) to fulfill their duty to implement long-overdue workplace standards in several key areas. Farmworkers are some of our most essential workers, and they are among the hardest working workers in the state. They face constant pressures and stress from long hours, global warming and forest fires, and a pandemic that has continued to ravage them and their communities. Stand with us in standing up to these essential workers and making sure they have the same basic rights as everyone else!

Overtime

CDLE must institute “meaningful” overtime standards for agricultural workers. In enacting the rules, the law requires CDLE to consider:

(a) the inequity and racist origins of the exclusion of agricultural workers from overtime standards and maximum hours protections available to other workers;

(b) the fundamental right of all employees to overtime and maximum hours standards that protect the health and welfare of employees; and

(c) the unique difficulties agricultural workers have obtaining workplace conditions equal to those provided to other workers.

Overwork Protection

CDLE is also required to make rules that require employers to protect workers from heat-related stress illnesses and injuries. Agricultural workers and advocates have long argued these standards should include, at a minimum, access to fresh drinking water throughout the duration of workers’ shifts, access to open area shade that is large enough for worker to be seated without touching each other during breaks, more frequent rest breaks when the outside temperature exceeds 90 degrees, and training to recognize the signs of heat stress.

Access to key service providers

The law directs CDLE to implement rules that will enable workers to meet with key service providers, including health care providers, community health workers, education providers, attorneys, government officials, and members of the clergy where they live and during times when it is most difficult for workers to access basic community services outside of standard work hours.

The bill also calls upon CDA to promulgate rules regarding the allowance of hand weeding and hand thinning of crops by workers in narrow circumstances in order to ensure workers are not at risk of acute, chronic, or debilitating injuries.

If you are interested in learning about ways you can help advance these vital workplace protections, visit CDLE’s information page and CDA’s information page here. Please note that the timeline for submission of comments is very tight so it is highly recommended you submit them as soon as possible. For questions, please contact Valerie Collins at valerie@towardsjustice.org.

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LAW SCHOOL… Yes We Can and Towards Justice join forces to create a new paid internship for first generation to college students interested in legal careers

Providing paid legal internships can help close gaps in the inequitable journey to law school and the legal profession.

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
May 18, 2021

Towards Justice and LAW SCHOOL… Yes We Can announce a LSYWC-Towards Justice Legal Internship. The internship will provide two LSYWC participants with a paid internship at Towards Justice every year. LAW SCHOOL… Yes We Can and Towards Justice are aligned in our commitment to a more inclusive and diverse legal profession that is up to the task of addressing the full scope of legal challenges confronting our society. To build that profession, we must break down barriers for those who have been systematically excluded from our profession. 

LAW SCHOOL… Yes We Can (LSYWC) supports first generation to college students who are interested in pursuing legal careers and attending law school. Students accepted into LSYWC are matched with three attorney mentors, are provided continued coaching through their undergraduate years, and access to LSAT prep courses. Towards Justice is a non-profit workers’ rights law firm seeking to support workers in advancing economic justice in Colorado and around the country through impact litigation and policy advocacy. Towards Justice has supported thousands of Colorado workers through free case analysis and litigation.

The new LSYWC-Towards Justice Legal Internship will provide first-generation college students interested in legal careers paid internships with Towards Justice. At least two paid internships will be available in a calendar year. LSYWC-Towards Justice Legal Interns will actively participate in connecting with potential clients, tracking intakes and referrals, communicating with partner organizations and collaborating attorneys, and supporting legal research. The LSYWC-Towards Justice Legal Intern will also learn about Towards Justice’s diverse legal cases, targeted policy advocacy strategies, and the work Towards Justice does to support workers in building worker power.

“LSYWC is a unique pre-law pipeline program for low income, first-generation, and diverse college students that includes team mentoring, strong curriculum of workshops, and professional networking opportunities for our fellows.  At LSYWC, we recognize that experiential learning is a key facet in the preparation for law school and beyond.  We greatly appreciate and are thrilled to be partnering with Towards Justice,” said Maria G. Arias, LSYWC Executive Director. 

“LSYWC provides our fellows with incomparable access to resources to which they would not have otherwise had and provides our mentors and supporters with unparalleled opportunities to make an impact on the diversity of the legal community in Colorado and beyond. Paid internships with Towards Justice is an incredible example of such support,” said Jason Marquez, President/Treasurer, LSYWC Board of Directors.

“We’ve seen how common practices in our profession—like the unpaid internship available to students and aspiring lawyers with connections—help to reinforce systemic barriers to a diverse and inclusive legal profession by disadvantaging those who can’t afford to work without pay and don’t have an inside track to prestigious jobs. Towards Justice has made paid internships a priority and is grateful for our new partnership with LAW SCHOOL… Yes We Can, a terrific organization, in support for first-generation college students,” said David Seligman, Executive Director of Towards Justice

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Joint Statement

Towards Justice and Nichols Kaster PLLP issue the following statement, which the Regional Transportation District in Denver (RTD) has already issued. Towards Justice and Nichols Kaster PLLP represented the former applicant in the matter described.

Joint Statement

RTD has resolved a complaint raised by a former applicant for employment as an RTD bus driver. The complaint involved a policy associated with RTD’s hiring practices that automatically denied employment to any applicant with more than a certain number of points on their driver’s license. The former applicant alleged that, because people of color are more likely to be pulled over and to receive points for non-serious traffic violations, this policy allegedly impacted applicants of color.

As a result of the former applicant bringing this matter to RTD’s attention, RTD will revise its hiring practices for transit operators to conduct an individualized review of applicants’ driving records to determine suitability for employment.

Safety remains a core value at RTD, and the new hiring process will continue to uphold that value by promoting a thorough review of each applicant’s driving record. RTD appreciates the applicant bringing this issue to the forefront, and the applicant appreciates RTD’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in its hiring practices and workplaces.

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Letter to Colorado Attorney General Philip Weiser

RE: JBS’s Commission of a Public Nuisance Relating to COVID-19

Dear Attorney General Weiser,

We write to urge your office to investigate the workplace safety and public health crisis that has plagued JBS USA, Inc. (“JBS”) workers and their communities in and around Greeley, Colorado during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As you know, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”)
recently issued a citation to JBS and proposed a $15,615 penalty against the company for its
“serious violations” at JBS’s Greeley facility. We fear that this meager and insulting penalty,
which amounts to only around $2500 per worker life lost at that plant, will only embolden
JBS’s brazen prioritization of its extraordinary profits over the health and safety of working
Coloradans. Colorado is not, however, helpless to act.

Read the entire letter here.

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Press Release: Pa. Meat Processing Workers Seek Order Forcing OSHA to Intervene to Protect Them from COVID-19 Contraction at Work

Three meat processing workers at a Dunmore, PA meat processing plant are asking a federal court to require Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia and the Occupational Safety & Health Administration to use their authority to protect workers in imminent danger of serious illness or death caused by COVID-19. The workers in this action estimate as many as half the total workforce at the Dunmore plant have contracted the disease thus far. (more…)

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Press Release: Meat Workers and Allies Nationwide File Racial Discrimination Complaint to Challenge Meat Processing Corporation Actions, Alleging Racial Discrimination in Disastrous COVID-19 Response

Administrative complaint argues that USDA must end federal support for dominant meat processing corporations disregard Black, Latino, and Asian lives and wellbeing

A nationwide coalition of organizations that advocate for meat processing workers, and allied groups, today filed an administrative civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging that in addition to being disastrous for the wellbeing of workers and for public health, two major meat processing corporations’ have engaged in racial discrimination prohibited by the Civil Rights Act through their workplace policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The complaint alleges that megacorporations Tyson and JBS have adopted policies that reject critical Centers for Disease Control guidance – social distancing on meat processing lines – to stop the spread of COVID-19 at their processing facilities and that the results of their current operating procedures have a discriminatory impact on the predominantly Black, Latino, and Asian workforce at the companies’ plants.

Because of the federal money that flows to the corporations in the form of federal Farm Bill nutrition program and Trade Mitigation Program contracts, this disparate impact violates federal civil rights law. The complainants ask that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Civil Rights suspend, terminate, and refuse to provide financial assistance to these two companies as a result of this racial discrimination, and to refer the complaint to the Department of Justice for action.

The complainants in this administrative complaint are Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Rural Community Workers Alliance, the HEAL Food Alliance, Forward Latino, American Friends Service Committee – Iowa, and the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils. They are represented by Public Justice, Nichols Kaster PLLP, and Towards Justice.

According to the complaint filed today, “The Policies discriminate on the basis of race by causing a substantial adverse effect on Black, Latino, and Asian workers. In addition, publicly available facts indicate a pattern or practice of discrimination. Existing social inequities compound this discrimination for Black and Latino workers, including higher death rates and higher hospitalization rates than white people.”
As of July 6, the Food & Environment Reporting Network reports that there are at least 292 meatpacking processing plants with confirmed cases, with at least 40,081 meatpacking workers testing positive for, and at least 138 meatpacking workers dying from, COVID-19. As of July 7, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting documents that Tyson and JBS have the first and second most COVID-19 cases tied to their meat processing facilities, respectively, with a combined total of at least 12,495 positive cases. The complainants in this action allege that the policies at Tyson and JBS reject social distancing among workers at a minimum six feet of separation, as called for by the CDC. This impacts workers by increasing the risk of contracting COVID-19. The complaint alleges that the policies serve the objective of meeting pre-pandemic processing capacity.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention corroborate this Complaint. On July 7, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published data collected through May 31, 2020, analyzed the COVID-19 disparate impact suffered by workers in meat processing facilities, and discussed the measures implemented – or more importantly not implemented – at such facilities. The CDC Disparity Report found that, based on 21 states reporting race and ethnicity data, “Hispanic and Asian workers might be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in this workplace setting.” The Report does not identify any instances of facilities reporting adoption of the minimum 6-foot social distancing measure to protect workers on processing lines.

As of June 6, 2020, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue reported that meat processing plants “are operating more than 95% of their average capacity compared to this time last year.” The New York Times reports that exports of pork and beef have surged during the first four months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. In addition, USDA cold storage data through May 31, 2020, shows that the amount of beef and chicken in cold storage increased compared to the same period last year, while the pork inventory represented 74 percent of the amount at the end of May 2019.
According to a recent study, Black, Latino, and Asian workers make up 69.6 percent (25.2, 44.4, and 10, respectively) of frontline workers in meat processing plants, but only 61.9 percent (22.5, 39.4, and 7, respectively) of all meatpacking workers, and 28.7 percent (11.9, 16.8 and 6.6, respectively) of all U.S. workers. Conversely, white workers are underrepresented in frontline meatpacking positions. Although white workers make up 34.5 percent of all meatpacking workers, and 63.5 percent of all U.S. workers, only 19.1 percent of frontline meatpacking workers are white. In addition, over 73 percent of Tyson’s salaried employees are white, and over 58 percent of JBS’s management is white. Racial disparities not only influences who bears the risk of contracting COVID-19 and spreading the virus in meat processing plants, but also who will suffer more from having the illness: Black and Latino people are more likely to suffer seriously from COVID-19 than white people because of social inequities, according to the complaint.

Today’s administrative complaint is filed with the USDA, because each of these megacorporations received significant sums of public contracts through USDA in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has entered into contracts with the corporations under several Farm Bill nutritional and Trade Mitigation Program departmental programs, a primary objective of which is to support agricultural jobs and the agricultural economy:

– Tyson received $165,756,043 in Fiscal Year 2019 and $109,389,928 to date in 2020
– JBS and its subsidiary Pilgrim’s Pride received $147,643,591 in Fiscal Year 2019 and $45,774,572 to date in 2020

All corporations that receive federal financial assistance are bound from taking actions that discriminate by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which states that “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

“Now is the time for our federal government to recognize that this national COVID-19 crisis is being fueled largely by policies at plants operated by these two corporations, and that the suffering and death from coronavirus borne predominantly by Black, Latino, and Asian workers results from a choice made by Tyson and JBS in pursuit of additional profit, not to ameliorate any domestic food supply issue,” the complainant groups said in a joint statement on the filing. “This suffering is one of our moment’s defining issues of racial justice, and this diverse, nationwide coalition is proud to take action today to compel the USDA to enforce our basic civil rights laws so that these facilities operate more safely, with policies that will hopefully soon be in line with an enforceable OSHA COVID-19 standard.”

“Tyson and JBS could protect the lives of food chain workers, respect worker civil rights, and continue to operate their plants, if they were to do business in line with all CDC guidance,” said Brent Newell, Public Justice Food Project Senior Attorney and lead counsel for the complainants in the action filed today.

“Instead, for the purpose of maximizing profits and processing capacity, these companies treat plant floor workers as sacrificial and reject social distancing on the processing lines in their plants. These corporations have received over $150 million dollars this year in taxpayer money and the USDA must investigate this injustice and act immediately to prevent any further worker illnesses and deaths.”

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E-Newsletter: Supply Chain Workers Fighting for Workplace Dignity amid Systemic Racism and Injustice

Protecting Supply Chain Workers, Their Families and Communities

Dear Friends,

We are writing to you to let you know about a lawsuit that Towards Justice, with our colleagues and collaborators from Make the Road New York, Public Justice, and Terrell Marshall, filed on behalf of several courageous Amazon workers and their family members in federal court in New York earlier this week (read the complaint here and coverage of the case here, here, and here).

Our clients allege that Amazon’s operations at its JFK8 fulfillment center in Staten Island, NY are inconsistent with state law and public health guidance. We allege that Amazon’s conduct has contributed to the spread of COVID-19 among workers at the plant and in their communities. Dozens of workers have already gotten sick and at least one has died. The plaintiffs seek an injunction to force Amazon to comply with public health guidance.

This lawsuit comes amid an historic outcry from communities experiencing persistent brutality inflicted by a justice system forged by centuries of racism and oppression. Our clients are battling against many of those same forces. The spread of COVID-19 has been shaped by systemic racism. That reality is borne out by the data, and it is part of the lived experience of tens of millions of Americans.

Most of the plaintiffs in the Amazon case are low- and middle-income Black people who live in and around New York City. While describing the terror of working in conditions likely to make them and their families sick, some have also remarked as an aside that they have attended several “zoom funerals” over the past few months to mourn those they have already lost to this pandemic.

Many of you reading this email have not been attending many “zoom funerals.” But for many others, that terrible grief has become a fact of life. Millions of Americans have had to endure that grief while suffering devastating job losses, often without access to the social safety nets that are in theory supposed to support us, or while having to continue working in low-paying dangerous jobs upon which their survival depends. Like so much else in America, your experience of this pandemic is determined in large part by your race. Now, after some communities have suffered the terrible consequences of a pandemic fanned by the flames of structural racism, they are forced to cry out for justice once again in the face of pervasive police brutality.

No lawsuit can fix our broken system. But we are honored to represent our courageous clients in seeking some modicum of  workplace dignity from one of the wealthiest corporations in  the world. Like so much else, that is something worth fighting for.

Onward,

David Seligman, Executive Director
&
Juno Turner, Director of Litigation

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Episode 1: TJ Talks – Unemployment Insurance

Watch Jesus and David discuss the ins and outs of Unemployment Insurance.

Jump ahead to the question that interest you:

  • 1:20 “What is unemployment insurance?
  • 3:59 “What if my employer didn’t pay into the Unemployment Insurance Fund?
  • 4:41 “What if I’ve been furloughed? Can I apply for Unemployment Insurance?
  • 5:17 “Who qualifies for Unemployment Insurance Benefits?”
  • 6:11 “Do independent contractors qualify for unemployment insurance benefits?”
  • 7:39 “Can undocumented workers qualify for unemployment benefits?”
  • 9:00 “What about people who have DACA? Can they apply for unemployment insurance benefits?
  • 9:21 “What if my unemployment benefits claim was denied?”
  • 10:04 “What about people who have been furloughed but have not been called back to work? Can they continue to receive unemployment benefits?
  • 10:43 “What about people who have been called back to work but are afraid to go back to work because of safety concerns?”

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Press Release: Fort Collins Workers File Charge against Employer for Firing

Fort Collins Workers File Charge against Employer for Firing Them for Complaining about Workplace Safety Issues Related to COVID-19

The federal agency charged with enforcing national labor law needs to protect employees who exercise their right to work together to improve their working conditions, not shield employers who fire those workers, a group of workers told the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an unfair labor practice charge filed today.

According to the complaint, Ku Cha Tea House, a tea retailer with stores in Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins, Colorado fired six employees after they raised concern in a group letter about Ku Cha Tea’s COVID-19 safety practices. The fired employees say they made two requests: first, that two immunocompromised coworkers be permitted to work without customer contact, which would be feasible without altering the store’s practices because staff typically do a substantial amount of their work in the store’s back room, and second that, whenever possible, customers be required to place orders and make purchases through curbside pickup, which workers later discovered was required by Governor Polis’s “safer at home” order.  In direct response to their concerns, Ku Cha Tea allegedly fired the employees. In a later email to one of the employees, the tea retailer wrote it was disappointed that he had “organized other employees to refuse to work.”

“Our sole objective is to stay safe,” said Larson Ross, one of the fired employees. “It’s simply wrong for any employer to fire employees because they want to stay safe.”

If the NRLB finds that the business fired the employees because of their concerted activity, the company could be forced to reinstate the fired employees, issue backpay wages, and inform all its employees about their labor rights by issuing a notice to its employees.

“In this unprecedented pandemic crisis, it is critical that the NLRB protect workers who engage in concerted activities by advocating for workplace safety,” said Valerie Collins, an attorney at Towards Justice. “Not only is concerted activity one of the core rights enjoyed by employees in the United States, a commitment to workers safety is a commitment to everyone’s safety.”

“Concerted action is essential to worker safety and public health,” said Dennis Dougherty, the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, which represents approximately 165 affiliate unions with membership totaling more than 130,000 working Coloradans.  “Federal law protects unionized and non-unionized employees and no worker should ever be forced to choose between their health and their job.”

Media Contact: Valerie Collins * Attorney * Towards Justice * (720) 295-1672  * valerie@towardsjustice.org

Read the Charge Here

Press:

The New York Times: Workers Fearful of the Coronavirus Are Getting Fired and Losing Their Benefits

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