Our Workers’ Rights Project strives to enforce and expand policies that ensure safe workplaces, fair treatment, a living wage and a strong safety net in times of hardship. That work was never more important than in 2013.
The Justice Center led a major campaign to prevent cuts to unemployment benefits for workers out of work through no fault of their own and to prevent the loss of millions in federal funding for long term unemployment benefits for North Carolina workers. To educate the public, policymakers and the press about the critical role of the unemployment insurance system, we undertook a multi-strategy effort, the Tar Heel Workers Campaign. Using modern tools like information graphics and social media—as well as classic tactics like lobbying—the project helped countless North Carolinians learn about and take action to prevent a devastating blow to our state’s social safety net. Unfortunately, new legislation brought cuts to benefits and eligibility. The Justice Center is assessing and reporting the impact of the changes and continuing to fight for North Carolina’s jobless workers.
Though the loss of vital benefits was the biggest fight of 2013, the Justice Center fought to improve the well-being of working families in other ways as well. Our Workers’ Rights project hosted “Know Your Rights” trainings for over 160 workers on a variety of topics, and met with more than 250 farmworkers to provide information about their legal rights. The Justice Center also monitored legislation requiring mandatory drug testing for all Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients and applicants, which would have placed additional financial burdens on struggling families who receive assistance. In response to this legislation we produced a report outlining the constitutional issues raised and estimating the cost of implementing the proposal. Our work helped to ensure that the legislation ultimately passed required reasonable suspicion of drug use before a recipient could be subjected to testing. The Justice Center continues to closely monitor the implementation of this new law to ensure that it is fairly and lawfully applied.
The Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights project partnered with UNC Law School’s Human Rights Clinic to interview workers from several industries in the Triangle about their experiences with wage theft. Our 2013 report, “Wage Theft: North Carolina’s Hidden Crime Wave,” highlighted this significant problem for low wage workers in the state.
Continuing their work to ensure that employers comply with minimum wage and overtime laws, Justice Center attorneys received final approval for settlement of a case brought on behalf of 200 seafood workers and distributed over $200,000 to those workers. In 2013 we also filed suit against a landscaping company and large sweet potato and tobacco farms in eastern North Carolina to recover back wages for employees and former employees.