NC JUSTICE NEWS: Meet the Staff: Clermont Ripley + War on Poverty + "Inequality for All"

January 22, 2013

MEET THE STAFF: Clermont Ripley, Workers' Rights Project

As an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, Clermont Fraser Ripley focused her senior thesis on individuals who had emigrated from Mexico to the U.S. She soon discovered the often harsh divide between the life these individuals had dreamed of upon choosing their new home and the challenges they ultimately faced.

“I tried to figure out what motivated them, and what they expected versus the reality, and whether the reality lived up to that expectation,” Clermont says.

Bearing witness to those challenges informed Clermont's decision to pursue a law degree and a career that focused on social inequality. A “Double Hoo”—meaning she received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Virginia—Clermont knew upon entering law school that she wanted to work on behalf of low-wage immigrant populations. In law school, she led the Migrant Farmworker Project, visiting workers’ camps to help educate migrant workers about their rights and how to enforce them.

“Farmworkers, especially Spanish-speaking ones, were the most vulnerable population in terms of being exploited and due to their lack of access to lawyers,” Clermont said.

Clermont received the Powell Fellowship in Legal Services upon graduating from law school, and joined the NC Justice Center in 2007 to serve migrant H-2B seafood workers. H-2A visas are assigned to temporary agricultural workers, whereas H-2B visas encompass all other areas, such as seafood, landscaping, forestry, and—increasingly— hospitality work. Clermont and the Workers' Rights team worked to sue seafood processing companies using H-2B workers in order to ensure that workers were paid their promised wages, as well as transportation and visa costs.

“Over six years, we’ve seen some good court decisions and changes with employers paying costs and a proper wage,” Clermont says. “The flipside is that the wages they’re required to pay are still really low.”

There’s currently national litigation on how to change the way wage rates are calculated, which is the only real way to improve the system, Clermont says.

“H-2B visas are only supposed to bring temporary workers when US workers are unavailable,” she says. “And we have high unemployment right now, particularly in poor rural counties. The wages [companies] get away with paying are so low, and working conditions so bad, it’s hard to even attract those workers.”

The Workers’ Rights Project will continue their efforts to improve wages and working conditions for migrant workers, as well as other low-wage worker groups, such as landscape H-2B visa holders and restaurant employees. The project has been engaged in the NC Raise Up campaign for restaurant and fast-food workers, who experience rampant wage theft.

You can help Clermont continue her work by making a donation to the North Carolina Justice Center. Click here to make a contribution today.

WAR ON POVERTY: January marks the 50th anniversary of LBJ's declaration

This month marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration to an unconditional War on Poverty, an effort that was announced during his 1964 State of the Union address.

Far too many North Carolinians and Americans still live on the “outskirts of hope” and face the stark realities of poverty, although poverty has fallen significantly over the last half-century, illustrating the key role that public policies play in combating poverty and boosting economic security. Johnson’s War on Poverty laid the foundation for the modern-day safety net, including Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), and a boost to Social Security benefits.

The evidence is clear that the War on Poverty launched during the Johnson era and those implemented thereafter—such as the Earned Income Tax Credit—have helped make substantial progress against poverty. Yet, without question, much more needs to be done to help further reduce poverty and hardship and promote economic opportunity.

Over the next month, the Budget & Tax Center will take a serious look at the history and myths of poverty in North Carolina as well as what still needs to be done to ensure a better future for all North Carolinians. Stay tuned.

INEQUALITY FOR ALL: Screening of Robert Reich documentary in Raleigh

Join us for a free screening of Inequality for All, a new documentary addressing widening income inequality in the United States presented by American economist and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

In this timely and entertaining documentary, noted economic policy expert Reich takes on the enormous question of what has been happening to our economy. He distills the story through the lens of widening income inequality—currently at historic highs—and explores what effects this increasing gap has not only on our economy but our democracy itself.

Entry to the event is free but registration is required as space is limited. The event will be held on Tuesday, January 28 from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at William Peace University's Browne-McPherson Music Building in Raleigh.

CRUCIAL CONVERSATION: Public Policy Polling's Tom Jensen looks at 2014

In an upcoming Crucial Conversation event, NC Policy Watch will take a look at what's ahead in 2014. Are voters happy about the current state of North Carolina politics? What do they think about the politicians running the show? What’s likely to happen this May? How about this November? Don’t miss a chance to gather some answers to these questions from two of the state’s leading experts. Join NC Policy Watch on Thursday, January 30, for a Crucial Conversation breakfast featuring Tom Jensen and Chris Fitzsimon.

Tom Jensen is the Director of the nationally recognized polling firm Public Policy Polling and oversees its day-to-day operations. During his time at PPP, he has been a frequent guest for television and radio stations across the region and has been called on for expert analysis by publications including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Christian Science Monitor and U.S. News and World Report.

Chris Fitzsimon is the Director of NC Policy Watch and North Carolina’s leading progressive media personality. Chris is a veteran journalist and nonprofit leader whose daily commentaries are heard on radio and read online throughout North Carolina.

The event will be held at 8:15 a.m. on January 30 at the Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. Pre-registration is required.

AIM HIGHER NC: Call on lawmakers to raise teacher pay to national average

Ten days ago, former Gov. Jim Hunt called on Gov. McCrory and the NC General Assembly to agree to a bipartisan plan to raise North Carolina’s teacher pay to the national average in the next four years. It’s an ambitious goal. It's a goal that everyone should be able to rally around.

North Carolina’s public schools are now in a crisis because our teacher pay is embarrassingly low. Last year, North Carolina ranked 46th out of 50 in teacher pay, with an average salary nearly $10,000 lower than the national average. As a result, many teachers are forced to work a second job just to make ends meet. Some are leaving the profession to start more lucrative careers, while others are moving out-of-state to teach elsewhere.

To sign the petition calling on Gov. McCrory and state lawmakers to work to raise teacher pay to the national average, click here.

DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE AWARDS: Make your nomination today

Mark your calendars!  This year’s Defenders of Justice (DOJ) Awards will be held on Tuesday, April 22, at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill.

The DOJ Awards are given by the Justice Center to honor individuals or organizations that are making significant contributions in the following areas: Litigation; Research and Policy Development; Public Policy Advocacy and Grassroots Empowerment. Recipients will be honored at our annual event in the spring.

Eligible nominees must be based in North Carolina. If you would like to nominate an individual or organization in one of the following categories, please complete this nomination form and return to Melissa Wiggins at no later than February 1, 2014:

  • Litigation – Representing clients in high-impact cases that protect and expand the rights of low-income groups and individuals.
  • Policy Research and Advocacy - Conducting and disseminating research and development alternatives to existing policy.
  • Legislative Advocacy – Working with traditionally underrepresented populations to define and shape public policies.
  • Grassroots Empowerment - Developing programs designed to help community based organizations or individuals be leaders within their own communities. These organizations or individuals will have examples of programs that have been successful.

Stay tuned for more details on the Defenders of Justice Awards over the next few months.


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