Reflections on an Exciting Summer

Citlalli

 

 

The Employment Justice Center (EJC) is unique in that it combines policy advocacy and community organizing efforts with legal services to protect worker’s rights and secure workplace justice. As part of my Summer Fellowship at EJC I not only had the opportunity to develop my legal skills in areas such as client intake, representation, and legal research and writing, but I was also able to organize and rally with workers for higher wages, wage-theft prevention measures, and the rights of ex-offenders in the workplace. For example, this summer the D.C. Council increased the minimum wage and passed measures banning employers from asking job applicants if they have been arrested or convicted of a crime until after an initial job offer is extended.

 
The day the Council voted on these measures, EJC staff, advocates, and organizers, along with workers participated in a rally outside the Wilson Building where the vote took place to show community support of the final vote and increase pressure. Most compelling were the workers who took time out of their workdays to come support this legislation. Legislation they knew would improve not only their lives and that of their families, but also the lives of all workers throughout the city.

 
Observing the workers’ reactions when the bills were passed was a particularly memorable experience because it was evident that they felt hopeful and empowered, probably for the first time in a very long time. Without the workers’ support and the joint efforts of advocates and organizers, it is unlikely that this legislation would have passed. Similarly, the attorneys at EJC were invaluable in helping draft this legislation and will continue to play a crucial role in ensuring that laws like these are implemented and workers have the tools necessary to enforce their rights.

 
Ten weeks ago the cooperative attitude between attorneys, organizers, and advocates at EJC struck me as unusual. However, I soon learned how well everyone collaborated with one another to identify systemic issues from the employment problems raised by individual clients that come to the weekly Worker’s Rights Clinic. These interactions allow for a more holistic approach to securing workplace justice and distinguish EJC from other organizations with similar goals. Ultimately, my experience at EJC confirmed that a model combining policy, organizing, and legal strategies is especially important in addressing community needs at an individual level, while simultaneously working towards achieving systemic reform.

 
Organizations providing services using this model are few, but necessary in ensuring that the most vulnerable people in our communities have access to justice. Work to ensure fair treatment in the workplace, respect for the rights of workers, and the dignity of workers is not close to being done but I have enjoyed the opportunity to be part of such an organization, even if only for a summer.

 

Citlalli Ochoa
Law Clerk- Summer 2014