Labor Day is often spent as the last relaxing Monday before jumping into a new school year and saying goodbye to long, warm summer nights. Yet, it is important to take a moment to recognize the significance of this holiday; it honors the American Labor Movement and all the contributions that workers have made to the prosperity, strength, and well-being of this country.
Although immense progress has been made, many work environments are far from perfect. Racism, discrimination, and the wage-gap persist. Pro bono lawyers have a critical role to play in protecting workers’ rights and helping workers secure fairer wages, benefits, schedules, hours, safer conditions, and equality for all in the workplace. Inspiring, recent examples of labor and employment-related pro bono work performed by Law Firm Pro Bono Project member firms and Challenge® signatories include:
- Covington & Burling,*† the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the American Federation of Teachers, represented more than 350 Filipino teachers against a California recruiting firm that lured them to teach in Louisiana public schools, cheated them out of tens of thousands of dollars, and forced them into exploitive contracts. Following a trial against the recruiting firm, the jury awarded $4.5 million in damages.
- Latham & Watkins*† and the Washington Lawyers’ Committee sued Tito Contractors, a Washington, D.C.-area contracting company, on behalf of current and former employees, for failing to pay its employees overtime wages. Most, if not all, of the employees were first or second generation immigrants from Central and South America. The case was litigated over several years and, ultimately, back wages were secured for 25 employees.
- Munger, Tolles & Olson*†, Public Counsel, and the ACLU obtained a settlement that will protect farm workers and promote agricultural workplace safety in California by improving the enforcement of California’s heat-illness-prevention regulations. As a result, workers now have the ability to report heat regulation violations to the CAL/OSHA under newly established procedures and there will be more robust inspections of outdoor worksites during heat waves.
- Nutter McClennen & Fish*† summer associates, supervised by junior associates, represent eligible clients seeking unemployment compensation in hearings before a Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Division of Unemployment Assistance hearing officer.
Significant progress has been made over the years on behalf of workers, but there is still much to be accomplished – securing a living wage for all, workplace safety, closing the gender pay gap; the list goes on. Let’s be grateful this holiday weekend for the progress we have made, but let’s not be satisfied when there is more to be done.
Hat tip to PBI intern Kelsey Muniz for her help with this post.
* denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® Signatory
† denotes a Law Firm Pro Bono Project® Member