Finding My Voice: Yanely Perez on a Summer with DC Jobs with Justice

Reposted from Georgetown Kalmanovitz Initiative Blog My time with the Kalmanovitz Initiative Summer Organizing internship not only let me grow as a person but also use that growth to make deeper connections with DC workers and organizers. I am humbled to have worked with so many passionate people that really care about other people and their struggle. I was placed with DC Jobs with Justice, “a dynamic coalition of labor organizations, community groups, faith-based organizations, and student groups dedicated to protecting the rights of working people and supporting community struggles to build a more just society.” At least that’s how I have learned to describe it to other people, but to me, DC JWJ became a wake up call. I worked on DC JWJ’s anti-wage theft campaign. DC previously passed legislation to increase the minimum wage and extend paid sick days, which were huge victories for DC workers. During my time at DC JWJ, the DC City Council also passed the strongest anti-wage theft law in the country. I sat in the Wilson building for six hours just to hear them pass the bill. Though I have never been so incredibly bored in my entire life, it was a moment of clarity and it is something that I have recently reflected on. I was there to support these workers whom I had started building a relationship with, but I see now that my presence was small. The workers and the organizers had devoted so much of their time, and they had built a unique relationship in solidarity with each other. They had spent hours upon hours not just sitting...

Historic Day! Anti-Wage Theft Law and Ban the Box Passed in the DC Council

On Monday, July 14th, the D.C. Council voted on two key pieces of legislation that will strengthen rights for all workers in DC. The Fair Criminal Records Screening Act (also known as “Ban the Box”) will begin to remove barriers to gainful employment for returning citizens or people with arrest records by prohibiting questions about a person’s criminal record on employment applications. The Wage Theft Prevention Act will overhaul wage and hour enforcement in D.C. by creating formal hearings and increased penalties for employers who do not pay their workers what they promise or what DC law requires. DC workers and community members from the Ban the Box and Wage Theft Coalitions held a brief rally before the vote. Both laws passed unanimously! This is a truly monumental day for ALL workers in DC. Thank you ALL for the support you gave to get these laws passed! And congratulations to all those who fought for this...

DC Jobs with Justice at the “Ban the Box” Hearing!

Councilmember Tommy Wells, chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, held a hearing at the Wilson Building on new legislation to “Ban the Box.”  The bill would prevent employers from asking job candidates about their criminal history on their applications.  The hearing gave the public a chance to testify about the wording on the proposed “Fair Criminal Record Screening Act of 2014” (1). During the 4 hour hearing, almost 40 people gave testimony about the legislation.  The stacked line-up included many public witnesses, as well as advocates from many community organization speaking in support of the bill (2).  Among those who presented were the Reentry Network for Returning Citizens,  DC Employment Justice Center (EJC), Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC), Bread for City, and our very own Executive Director, Nikki Lewis! As Councilmember Wells explained, DC is estimated to have 60,000 residents with criminal histories and approximately 8,000 returning citizens annually.  With the current background check for employment and housing applications, finding a stable job and place to live is nearly impossible for these formerly incarcerated individuals, as many of the public witnesses conveyed in their testimony.  As a result, residents and family members of those that have had previous contact with the criminal justice system are unfairly forced to suffer unequal discrimination.  With our broken system not providing the opportunity for employment and housing, many end up back in jail. Perhaps because of the strong public support for the bill, Wells expressed that he plans to make sure the bill passes as one of the most comprehensive pieces of ban the box legislation in the nation.  Significantly, however, many testimonies applauded...

Big day at the DC Council tomorrow

Tomorrow, February 4th promises to be an important day for working people at the DC Council legislative hearing. First, Councilmember Vincent Orange has pledged to introduce a bill on combating wage theft – a bill which would increase penalties for employers who rob their workers of wages, beef up enforcement at the Dept. of Employment Services, and strengthen protections for workers who blow the whistle on bad employers. On top of that, tomorrow’s hearing will also include a vote on a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession. In July of last year, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs released a study revealing that people of color in DC were disproportionately arrested, especially for nonviolent crimes and drug offenses. DC residents and community organizations have long organized around this issue of our law enforcement effectively criminalizing certain populations, and this vote – if successful – would be one more step toward eradicating this injustice. With the vote tomorrow, it is worth noting that one Councilmember – at-large CM Anita Bonds – spoke definitively just last week about her support for decriminalization. See the video below for her statement. [youtube height=”HEIGHT”...

Demand an End to Wage Theft at GWU

Eleven workers who performed cleaning work in the dormitories at George Washington University this summer have launched a public campaign to demand the wages that have been stolen from them. Click here to sign the petition and stand in solidarity with these courageous workers. Here’s an excerpt from the coworker.org petition: My name is Julia Hidalgo, and I am one the cleaning staff who worked long hours this summer to prepare George Washington University’s Thurston Hall, Potomac Hall and Ivory Tower dorms for incoming students…I was looking forward to the overtime hours in my paycheck — money I planned to spend on childcare for my 15-month-old daughter. But when it came time to be paid, BRAVO! Building Services terminated us without paying us for hours worked. I was devastated and worried about how I’d pay my bills that month. Support Julia and the other 10 workers in their fight to for respect and rightfully earned wages!...

Workers and Community Supporters Rally, Testify at the DC Council to Stop Wage Theft

Chants of “la lucha – sí, la lucha – sí” (the struggle -yes, the struggle – yes) echoed off the DC Council chamber walls as more than 50 workers and community activists packed the Wilson Building on Monday, March 4th to demand more protections for workers against wage theft. DC Jobs with Justice, United Workers of DC, and the DC Wage Theft Coalition accompanied workers as they presented Councilmember Marion Barry with a giant paper bill for outstanding unpaid wages. The bill totaled more than $260,000, yet only represented the wage theft claims of about 40 workers, a small number of the many more victimized by wage theft in Washington, DC. Pledging to seek justice for the workers, Councilmember Barry quoted Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will.” With that, the group filed into the performance oversight hearing for the Department of Employee Services. Witness after witness testified about the inability of the Office of Wage-Hour to protect workers who struggle to recover their rightfully owed wages. United Workers of DC President Carlos Castillo explained, “Without significant changes, going to the Office of Wage-Hour to file claims often becomes a waste of time, of money, and of opportunity to find a good option for daily work for a day laborer.” Moved by this and the many other testimonies from workers and advocates, Councilmember Barry vowed to investigate the workers’ claims, to explore new resources, systems, and funding for the Office of Wage-Hour, and to consider proposing legislation to protect workers against wage theft. Coming off a tremendous victory at popular Georgetown restaurants,...