LAW 834

Law, Organizing, and Low-Wage Workers

Public Interest Law

Recent decades have seen worsening economic inequality across the U.S. economy and a proliferation of low-wage jobs.  This practicum course focuses on strategies to reverse these trends through organizing campaigns among low-wage and immigrant workers in Los Angeles with the support of creative legal advocacy.

Immigrant workers are helping to revitalize the labor movement.  No effort exemplifies this better than organizing campaigns among hospitality sector workers by the progressive labor union UNITE HERE Local 11.  The hospitality sector—including hotels, restaurants, stadiums, convention centers, amusement parks, and airports—is among the largest and fastest-growing sectors of the region's economy.  Like the broader service sector, its workforce is made up largely of immigrants, women, people of color, and other economically and socially disadvantaged classes. While many hospitality jobs remain poorly paid and unstable, an increasing number have been transformed in recent years by Local 11-led campaigns into family-sustaining, middle-class jobs with livable wages, affordable family healthcare, legal service benefits, and pensions. This progress has been achieved through a combination of bottom-up organizing among workers, coalition-building with the broader community, and creative legal and policy strategies.  

This course--which is taught in partnership with UNITE HERE Local 11--will give students practical experience in working as community lawyers in the labor movement and in using the law to organize and represent low-wage workers.  Students will be assigned in groups to organizing teams and work closely with the union's staff attorneys on campaigns to help vindicate workplace rights and raise labor standards.  In recent years, students in the course have: 

• prepared an international human rights complaint concerning stadium workers' labor standards
• interviewed workers and drafted complaints alleging violations of sexual harassment and wage theft laws 
• researched and prepared briefing in a major case before the Ninth Circuit involving antiunion discrimination 
• investigated and drafted briefs to support unfair labor practice charges before the National Labor Relations Board 
• helped hotel workers pursue cases in arbitration to enforce labor contracts, including developing worker testimony, and 
• prepared and presented know-your-rights materials for low-wage workers

Complimenting students' field work, the classroom component of the course will provide a space for us to explore key substantive areas of law (including labor law, antidiscrimination law, and wage-and-hour law, among others); develop practical skills like conducting client interviews and using storytelling techniques in legal advocacy; learn about the history of the labor movement; and understand the various elements of a successful worker organizing drive.  We will also develop a broader theoretical and practical understanding of the labor movement and alternative organizing structures like worker centers and examine important philosophical and ethical issues raised in legal practice.  Together, the readings, discussions, participatory exercises, videos and guest speakers will help participants develop their capacity to work as effective community lawyers in the labor movement and beyond.

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