2012 Report on Project Work - Workers' Rights

The Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project is dedicated to making sure those who work hard for a living are fairly paid, are fairly treated, and have the opportunity to progress along the path to prosperity. That involves working for better state policies, educating workers about their rights and holding employers who violate those rights responsible.

Educating and Empowering Workers

Many workers in North Carolina endure wage theft, unsafe working conditions, and discriminatory policies on the job because they don’t know what their rights are or they believe they have no recourse. Providing that important information to workers is a core mission of the Workers’ Rights Project.

  • Talked with workers around the state and produced an extensive qualitative research report on wage theft, then organized events and communications efforts around the report’s release
  • Conducted 18 Know Your Rights workshops throughout the state where we explained to workers what their rights are on the job and how they can stand up for those rights, and created a series of factsheets in English, Spanish and Creole to educate workers and Department of Labor officials
  • Led the NC Families Care Coalition, which works with partners in North Carolina and nationally to secure work-family polices that enable workers to care for their loved ones and themselves and still earn a living
  • Conducted outreach to dozens of migrant worker camps and educated hundreds of immigrant workers about their rights

Working for Opportunities for Ex-offenders

There are 1.6 million people in North Carolina with criminal records. For some, that record prevents them from getting a job, finding a place to live, and reintegrating into society. In 2011, we were successful in securing changes to state law that enabled some ex-offenders to remove those barriers by having their records expunged or by receiving certificates of relief. In 2012, we worked to make sure people benefited from these new laws and pushed for further improvements.

  • Led the Second Chance Alliance, which grew from 200 members to 700 members in 2012, and engaged people around the state in our efforts
  • Worked with the NC Department of Public Safety to establish local reentry councils, which are developing comprehensive plans to help people formerly incarcerated to reintegrate into their communities
  • Trained approximately 200 lawyers, in partnership with Legal Aid of North Carolina, to represent low-income individuals so they can benefit from the new expunction and certificate of relief laws

Fighting for Workers’ Rights in Court

The attorneys of the Workers’ Rights Project represent workers who have suffered from illegal employment practices. We make sure that workers are paid what they are owed and that employers end unsafe, discriminatory or unscrupulous practices.

  • Successfully challenged wage and other violations in the restaurant industry
  • Negotiated a substantial settlement for a class of over 800 poultry workers who were laid off following a plant closing without receiving all wages owed them
  • Secured a major victory for crab workers recovering significant back pay for the class whose employer was violating minimum wage and other wage and hour laws

The Big Challenge for 2013 – Unemployment Insurance

North Carolina’s unemployment rate is higher than the national average, and there are three unemployed workers for every one job opening. Fortunately, thousands of families in North Carolina have avoided homelessness and hunger thanks to unemployment insurance benefits.

In 2012, the Workers’ Rights Project stopped efforts to cut unemployment benefits or make them harder to access. We launched the I Am a Tar Heel Worker campaign and website, engaging hundreds of people and organizations in the effort to protect unemployment benefits and make more opportunities available to jobless workers. We met with newspaper editorial boards, testified before legislative committees, and sent letters to North Carolina’s congressional delegation in order to protect and increase unemployment benefits. We’ve also exposed the hypocrisy of plans to make unemployed workers pay a debt that was created by past tax cuts for business owners.

This fight will kick into high gear in 2013. We will advocate against efforts to cut the amount or duration of benefits, and we will work with state officials as they seek to modify how the unemployment system is run. Whatever changes are put forward, we will be there to stand up for the well-being of North Carolina’s working families.

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