2011 Equal Justice Works Fellow, Nicholas Joseph Webber

Nicholas Joseph Webber

Name of Host Organization: Watsonville Law Center
City, State: Watsonville, California
Issue area: Workers' Rights, Farmworkers
Sponsors: The Morrison & Foerster Foundation

The Project

This project will put a stop to this injustice and stand as a model for future workers' workplace protection. The Watsonville Law Center will protect low-wage workers' earnings by enforcing existing workplace laws. Situated in the heart of the agricultural Pajaro Valley and serving both Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties, we will provide direct legal services, education and outreach to the predominately Spanish-speaking, low-wage workers.

The Inspiration

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionThe dystopia of low-wage workers' plight found in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle is not a fiction of the past, but a frustration of the present. The National Employment Law Project's collaborative study strips away the veil to show the harsh reality still facing low-wage workers today. "Fully 26% of our sample were paid less than minimum wage... these violations were not trivial in magnitude with 60% being underpaid by over a dollar an hour." Workers are regularly denied legal compensation, overtime pay and rest breaks, while they are regularly required to work off the clock.

With the cost of living in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties (35-50% above the national average) and with 11-12% of the population living below the Federal Poverty limit, low-wage workers simply cannot afford to live unless workplace laws are enforced and communities cannot be expected to absorb the fallout when these families cannot survive.

In one pilot wage-claim clinic at the Watsonville Law Center, a young, frightened Latino sandwich maker was fired in a storm of expletives by the store's owner when he dared to ask for his pay check a second time. It was, however, the store owner's voice that was shaking as he explained to the Labor Commissioner's Office why he withheld wages from this young man to no avail.

Biography

Hometown:

Littleton, Colorado

Law school:

Making the connection:

Law school was a means to an end working in public interest. So many examples in history reveal how the poorest communities suffer the greatest injustices. Having already traveled through Central and South America as well as worked at a homeless shelter in the U.S., I have seen firsthand the results of poverty. I consider knowing and doing nothing to be the greatest injustice.

Surviving law school:

I found compassionate friends who cared deeply about the poor. I sought exposure to critical human rights issues through immersion studies in Costa Rica, Strasbourg and El Salvador. I found professors who saw the world through a similar lens and asked hard questions. I joined student groups like La Raza, ACLU and the Journal of International Law to stay focused. And finally, I found activities outside school such as volunteering, snowboarding and surfing to stay grounded.

Recommended books:

The Brother's Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky - captures the human struggle for truth and genuine self-confidence
The Skeleton in the Closet by Clarence Darrow - describes the internal struggles every human faces
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote - reminds me that "justice for all" means everyone tells their story

Favorite website(s):

Human Rights Watch Abound with the intricacies of human suffering & captures hopeful solutions.
School of Americas Watch Regularly reminds me of the continuing struggle in Central & South America for true democracy.
Craigslist "Free" A diversion & an excellent stomping ground for both good comedy & rare treasures

Words to live by:

"I have always resented the smug statement about how in 'America' if you work hard, you would become rich. The meaning of that was that if you were poor it was because you hadn't worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie." - Howard Zinn

"We are quite naturally impatient in everything, to reach the end without delay. And yet, it is the law of all progress, that it is made by passing through states if instability" - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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