On Thursday, February 22, the Center for Public Interest Law organized a panel discussion worker’s rights and common instances of workplace abuse. The four panelists also gave advice for those interested in pursuing legal careers in labor law. Adam Kadar, an organizer with the ARISE Chicago Worker Center, described his organization’s successful lobbying efforts in passing a city anti-wage theft ordinance. Kadar also described the most common violations of federal labor law, including withholding wages (especially common in construction or contract work), requiring employees arrive early or stay late without compensation, or making unlawful wage deductions for uniforms or transportation.
Karen Engelhardt, an attorney for over 30 years, encouraged aspiring labor lawyers to learn a second language, or improve their legal writing skills, in order to gain an advantage in a tough economy. She also reminded students that it was possible to juggle pro bono and paid work. Alejandro Caffarelli, a founding shareholder of Caffarelli and Siegel Ltd., emphasized the importance of keeping fee shifting laws on the books for labor litigation, so that larger firms can continue to litigate smaller claims on behalf of less powerful clients. Caffarelli also indicated that the Supreme Court has recently become more hostile to class action suits alleging employor misconduct.
Yolanda Carrillo, an alumna and attorney with Working Hands Legal Clinic, described her organizations’ work with low income and undocumented workers who are most vulnerable to workplace abuse. She stressed the importance of multifaceted strategies that include policy change and community organizing in addition to pursuing individual claims.