In a project-based practicum course, students participate in a weekly seminar and work on a project under the supervision of their professor. This project-based practicum course will focus on workers’ rights and the role of lawyers in social justice movements. Students will participate in a two hour/week seminar and carry out 10 hours/week of project work under the direction of the course professor.
SEMINAR: Low-wage workers increasingly struggle to support themselves and their families with their wages. Abusive employer practices and stagnant minimum wages prevent many workers, even those able to find full-time employment, from earning a living wage. Wage theft is rampant, as employers violate labor and employment laws by failing to pay the minimum wage for all hours worked, refusing to pay overtime, or classifying employees as independent contractors to avoid laws that protect workers. Women, people of color, and immigrants are overrepresented in low-paying jobs and industries. Working in service and non-skilled jobs, low-wage workers are rarely unionized and rely on a complex network of local and federal laws to protect them against workplace injustice. In seminar, students will develop an understanding of the applicable laws regarding workers’ rights with a review of relevant case law and literature, class discussion and lectures by the lead faculty member and guest lecturers. They will also have the opportunity to experience and reflect on the challenges of developing a community lawyering practice. Worker-activists and organizers will offer first-hand descriptions of the work at the EJC Workers Rights Clinic and El Comité de Trabajadores at Many Languages, One Voice [MLOV] and other workers rights advocates to develop a practice supporting a community-based social justice movement.
PROJECT WORK: Low-wage workers and their lawyers are increasingly using a wide range of community-building and advocacy-related activities to support community-identified initiatives that return power to the workers themselves. Recently, low-wage workers and activists passed comprehensive wage theft legislation in Washington DC. These workers and activists continue to work to enforce new laws and extend existing laws to ensure workplace justice in Washington, DC. The worker-activists have formed El Comité de Trabajadores at Many Languages, One Voice [MLOV]. MLOV is a non-profit organization that fosters leadership and facilitates community-led initiatives to increase the meaningful inclusion of immigrants in the District of Columbia who do not speak English as their primary language. African-American members of OneDC have also created the Black Workers Center in Washington, DC to provide training, support organizing, develop legislative and direct action campaigns, and ensure enforcement of resident hiring requirements.
Students will experience working in that “community-lawyering” model by spending 10 hours/week with individual workers identified by MLOV’s Workers Committee, the Black Workers Center or other workers' rights organizations. Most of the cases will involve issues of wage theft; in addition, some may include assisting with preparing an administrative discrimination complaint or workers' comp forms. In addition, students will work with organizers and worker-activists at the community organizations to develop strategies to support a worker-led campaign such as ensuring language-accessibility at DC’s Office of Wage Hour as it implements the new wage theft prevention legislation, or investigating an employer’s failure to provide withholding information to their employees. This work will be completed at MLOV, the Black Workers Center or other community spaces. The professor will supervise all of the students’ work. Some weekend meetings are possible and all sites are Metro accessible.
Students will be required to complete an online problem solving questionnaire for $35, to be paid by each student.
While it is not required that students in this practicum speak Spanish, Spanish-speaking students are encouraged to enroll as many (but not all) of the worker-activists in El Comité de Trabajadores speak little to no English.