History of the Workers' Rights Project

The Workers’ Rights Project works to enforce and expand policies that ensure safe workplaces, a living wage, and a strong safety net in times of hardship. The team empowers workers to advocate for their rights in the workplace, secures public policies that improve economic security for working families, and ensures workers get the training they need for quality jobs. Over the years, attorneys, lobbyists, and analysts have:

  • Filed class actions on behalf of H2A farmworkers and H2B workers in North Carolina to ensure they were fairly paid their transportation and visa costs and the promised wage.
  • Supported passage of legislation increasing the state’s minimum wage to the federal minimum wage level, increasing wages for over 30,000 workers.
  • Supported passage of legislation that expands eligibility for unemployment benefit payments to thousands of jobless workers.
  • Played a key role in securing worker protection reforms after the Hamlet fire tragedy, including adoption of protections against retaliation in the workplace and more OSHA inspectors.
  • Helped establish an enhanced system to combat “misclassification” of workers as independent contractors which leads to workers being denied protections and benefits.
  • Led efforts to reduce barriers to reentry for individuals with criminal records by improving expunction laws, creating certificates of relief, establishing reentry councils, and prohibiting occupational licensing boards from automatically disqualifying individuals with criminal records.
  • Worked with partners to pass legislation and regulations expanding protections for migrant workers in the areas of pesticide exposure and migrant housing.

The Workers’ Rights Project carries on that work to this day by fighting to change policies that prevent people with criminal convictions from finding
employment and housing, advocating for laws and workplace policies that improve conditions for migrant workers and caregivers, and providing legal representation to farmworkers and other low-wage workers, as well as:

  • Improving the state’s Unemployment Insurance Program and restoring benefits cut in 2013. The project works to educate lawmakers and the public on how the state's unemployment insurance now provides too little for too short a period to too few of North Carolina’s jobless workers.
  • Fighting for pro-family policies, including legislation that expands eligibility for unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, allows working North Carolinians to earn more paid sick days, and prevents discrimination against pregnant people.
  • Raising the minimum wage. The team works with partners to support legislative proposals and lead campaigns (such as #WageWeek) that would increase the minimum wage in North Carolina, allowing working families to better meet the needs of their families.
  • Combating wage theft. Justice Center advocates demand that the NC Labor Commissioner upholds the law and makes companies pay their workers, and have filed class action litigation to uphold workers’ rights to be paid for their work.
  • Supporting Second Chances, including expanding certificates of relief and expunction, and legislation that would require judges setting aside a wrongful conviction to issue an order expunging the crime from all official records.
  • Battling House Bill 2 and its indoctrination of employment discrimination. The Justice Center worked with partners to fight the harmful bill that empowers businesses to discriminate and weakens the ability of local governments to raise wages.  

Annual Reports