Workers, Law, and Organizing Clinic

Spirited low-wage worker organizing across communities in Southern California and under-enforced state employment law create opportunities for lawyers working in alliance with organizers. Students in the Workers, Law, and Organizing Clinic, led by Prof. Sameer Ashar, will serve as first chair attorneys on all projects on the Clinic docket and will work in teams on at least one active litigation case and one policy advocacy or cooperative development project. 

As union density in the United States has been eviscerated and the workforce has shifted away from manufacturing, employers have used their economic and political power to subject workers to wage theft, unpaid overtime, unstable schedules, harassment, discrimination, misclassification, and criminalization and raised obstacles to organizing. In California, workers are susceptible to unlawful treatment, particularly low-wage immigrant, women, and Black workers. Labor exploitation is facilitated and structured by racism, misogyny, ableism, and other forms of subordination. The immigration and criminal legal systems deepen the vulnerability of low-wage workers.

Worker centers have risen in Southern California the last two decades in the gaps left by de-unionization. They have propelled creative campaigns to build worker power and fill representational gaps. Orange County is home to several important nascent organizing efforts. Students in the Workers, Law, and Organizing Clinic (WLO), launching as a self-standing core clinic in Fall 2021, will support worker organizing efforts across the region.

Students will develop transferable skills, strategies, and knowledge bases including: interviewing and counseling; case theory development; fact development and investigation; trial advocacy; legal and social science research and analysis; relationship-building with individual and organizational clients; community education and media advocacy; and legislative drafting, administrative rulemaking, and organizational toolkit development. 

Potential WLO Clinic projects include:

  • Minimum wage, overtime, wrongful termination/retaliation, meal and rest break, and misclassification cases before the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement and/or state and federal courts;
  • Unfair labor practices charges against employer coercion and retaliation before the National Labor Relations Board;
  • Administrative advocacy and policy advocacy in support of worker power before local and national legislative bodies and agencies;
  • Defense of workers against employer retaliation through the immigration and criminal legal systems;
  • Cooperative enterprise formation with teams of worker-owners; and
  • Documentation and report writing in collaboration with worker organizations.

Recent Work

As of fall 2022, Workers, Law, and Organizing Clinic students, in conjunction with the United Farm Workers and Martinez Aguilasocho Law, Inc. in Bakersfield, have investigated the termination of workers at a food processing plant in the Central Valley this past year. Students drafted a state court complaint alleging retaliation against the workers in violation of public policy for two walkouts in protest of unsafe conditions in the plant during the pandemic.

Clinic students are also working with National Day Laborer Organizing Network on deferred action requests for immigrant workers in labor disputes, Rideshare Drivers United on behalf of drivers deactivated by platform companies, Unemployed Workers United on local temporary agency regulation, UNITE HERE Local 11 on behalf of hospitality workers, and Warehouse Workers Resource Center on organizing in logistics operations in the Inland Empire.

Finally, with support from the American Association of University Women and led by experienced litigator and policy advocate Jennifer Reisch, a student team is focused on the representation of women, Trans, and femme workers in the low-wage sector. The team is initially focused on collaborations with domestic worker leaders in Nuestras Manos and restaurant workers in Tenayuca Labor Project, both worker organizations in Orange County, California. The clinic continues to deploy racial capitalism as a frame in which to analyze conditions of exploitation and expropriation in the low-wage sector and to co-generate strategies to counter those conditions with organizing partners.


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