Alexis Alvarez

The Project

Alexis’s (she/her) project with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program will challenge and reform occupational licensing regimes that exclude women of color from gainful employment based on criminal arrest or conviction history.

Nearly one in three working-age adults have criminal records in the United States, and one in four jobs require a license from the government. Many people are summarily denied licenses because of past convictions or arrests, even when that history has no relationship to their ability to work in that industry competently and safely. Eliminating these restrictions will allow women of color who are disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system to have expanded access to employment.

Throughout her career working to end the criminalization of poverty, Alexis has spoken with many people stuck in cycles of poverty and incarceration due to an unjust system of laws and regulations that makes it extremely difficult to find gainful employment. Eliminating these discriminatory occupational licensing restrictions will break these cycles by ensuring people have every opportunity to support themselves and their families.

Fellowship Plans

Alexis will challenge current occupational licensing restrictions through litigation and storytelling advocacy. She will partner with re-entry organizations to share stories of people who have struggled to find employment due to these harmful licensing restrictions. Amplifying these important stories will demonstrate the devastating impact these restrictions have on people of color. Alexis will also bring litigation to strike down restrictions that disproportionately exclude women of color.

Equitable access to employment is essential for living a productive, successful life in this country. Removing unnecessary and unfair occupational licensing restrictions has the potential to open millions of jobs to millions of people.

Alexis Alvarez /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Joseph’s (he/him/his) project will provide legal representation, community education, and outreach to domestic home healthcare workers in Chicago to enforce their rights under the new Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.

Illinois is home to roughly 85,000 domestic workers, roughly 47,000 of whom are home healthcare workers. Most are women, people of color, and immigrants. They play an important role in caring for older adults and people with disabilities in their homes, but they are also three times more likely than other workers to live in poverty. Joseph’s project will educate domestic workers about their employment-related rights and provide direct legal representation to address discrimination, wage theft, retaliation, and harassment.

Joseph has made workers’ rights and economic justice the central motivator of his law school career. He understands the unfair and enormous burden placed on individuals with limited proficiency in English to access justice. He believes that creating a more equitable, worker-centered approach in the workplace will lead to greater economic security for individuals in low-income, immigrant communities.

Fellowship Plans

Joseph will work with community partners in Chicago to strengthen enforcement of the new Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights by identifying violations. His project will develop multi-lingual and literacy-appropriate know-your-rights materials and host community events to disseminate information about the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. He will also pursue enforcement of the Illinois Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights with city and state agencies to address discrimination, wage theft, retaliation, and harassment.

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship has afforded me the opportunity to serve low-wage workers, particularly domestic workers in Chicago. I’m proud to fight for a more just workplace free of discrimination, wage theft, harassment, and retaliation.

Joseph Garcia /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Steve assisted low-wage immigrant workers with wage claims by expanding KIWAs Worker Empowerment Clinic.

Fellowship Highlights

Steve assisted workers at Koreatown supermarkets and raised concerns of unlawful and inequitable workplace conditions to the larger Los Angles community. His work resulted in a seven-figure settlement and changes in workplace conditions across various supermarkets in Koreatown.

Next Steps

Following his Fellowship, Steve worked at a prominent private public interest law firm where he continued representing low-wage immigrant workers in wage and hour class actions. Steve also served as a supervising attorney in the housing unit of the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice, where Steve supervised a housing rights clinic and engaged in unlawful eviction defense and slum litigation. Since 2012, Steve has served California workers at the California Labor Commissioner’s Office where he continues to represent low-wage immigrant workers with wage and hour claims.

The Project

Dave (he/him/his) will advocate for safe and healthy workplaces for low-wage workers in Greater Boston through direct legal services, community education and outreach, and policy advocacy. 

No one should have to choose between losing income and protecting their health. But low-wage workers are often fired or get their hours cut for asserting their rights to paid sick leave or safe and healthy working conditions. They are pressured to skip doctors’ appointments for themselves and their children to avoid missing work. Some employers even contest eligibility for unemployment benefits where workers have refused to work in unsafe conditions. As a result, poor health outcomes and high unemployment are concentrated in the working-class neighborhoods that make our state run. 

Fellowship Plans

To support workers in accessing their rights, Dave will partner with community organizations to run a know-your-rights campaign for paid sick leave and safe working conditions. Dave will represent workers in retaliation, unemployment, and wage theft claims related to unsafe working conditions and paid sick leave. Finally, Dave will collaborate with worker centers on legislative advocacy to expand the right to paid sick leave to more workers and to expand enforcement by the state. 

Media

Massachusetts Businesses Not Following COVID-19 Sick Time Program, Workers and Advocates Say

Eight from Harvard Law named Equal Justice Works Fellows

The pandemic demonstrates that all of our lives are connected, and those who put profit over people imperil everyone.

Dave McKenna /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Meghan (she/her/hers) will represent low-wage workers in wage theft cases and advocate for improved labor standards enforcement in North Carolina, targeting industries that exploit immigrant workers and workers of color.

The severe underenforcement of employment laws allows employers to unlawfully underpay workers without fear of penalty. Low-wage workers in Charlotte, North Carolina have inadequate access to employment legal services to seek remedies for wage theft, which can result from refusal to pay minimum wage or overtime and the intentional misclassification of workers. Meghan’s project will support low-wage workers in industries that have long exploited workers in the Charlotte region, such as those in construction and food services, as well as the rapidly growing warehouse and delivery sector.

Rather than protecting the most vulnerable workers, many employment laws were designed to exploit Black Americans and immigrants. Meghan is eager to improve the enforcement of existing employment laws in her home state, while also advocating for laws that reflect the numerous ways in which low-wage workers are exploited in the workplace.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Meghan will bolster the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s ability to address the underlying employment-related reasons for many clients’ income instability. She will work closely with community organizations to lead workplace rights training events, help workers file administrative complaints with the North Carolina Department of Labor and litigate wage theft cases. She will also collaborate with legal services and advocacy partners who are pushing for greater employer accountability for labor abuses at the state level, with a focus on including workers in labor standards monitoring and enforcement.

It is critical to address the role that Southern states have played in exploiting immigrant workers and workers of color.

Meghan Lucas /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Fernanda (she/her/hers) will combat immigration-related retaliation against workers in climate disaster clean up and reconstruction zones in the Southern United States through education, legal representation, and policy change.

The global climate crisis is wreaking havoc across the United States. Whether it be hurricanes, dam breaks, tornados, or wildfires, companies are looking to rebuild quickly at expedient costs and to do so, secure workers from around the country. Most of these workers are immigrants and many are undocumented. Unfortunately, many in the growing disaster recovery industry take advantage of the workers’ undocumented status by not paying them all they are owed, not paying them at all, and not following safety and health guidelines for what is often very dangerous work. When workers assert their rights, employers threaten to report them to immigration enforcement authorities.

Fernanda and her family left Mexico and moved to Alabama when she was two years old, where she grew up as an undocumented immigrant. She watched her parents receive less pay and unfair treatment than they deserved for their long hours of labor and take whatever job was available to them out of necessity to provide for their family. Due to a lack of information, her family was left vulnerable to those who believed undocumented immigrants had no legal recourses in labor disputes. Fernanda hopes to empower others and spread through the immigrant community the knowledge that everyone deserves a fair wage and humane working conditions, despite their immigration status.

Fellowship Plans 

Fernanda will equip natural disaster workers with legal information about their rights to be free from immigration-related retaliation by creating Know Your Rights workshops and videos to distribute via social media platforms, and training workers to be peer educators. She will also represent workers in wage and hour, safety and health, and worker organizing retaliation claims; companion applications for U Visas; and in appropriate cases, T Visas. Fernanda will hold large companies accountable for immigration-related retaliation, even when it is committed by subcontractors. She will also help change local policy, in disaster-affected communities to reduce the effects of immigration-related retaliation and promote long-lasting changes at the national level.

Media

2021 Scales of Justice Highlights

Men and women who rebuild communities decimated by natural disasters often return to their families with empty pockets, crushed spirits, and life-altering illnesses or disabilities as a result of their dedication to reconstruction and the lack of protection given by their employers. Large companies and subcontractors should honor and defend these valiant resilience workers, not pocket the funds federal agencies give them to pay workers.

Fernanda Herrera Spieler /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Dan (he/him/his) supports worker empowerment in the Twin Cities’ construction industry through the Building Dignity and Respect (BDR) Campaign and help workers defend their workplace rights.

Workers in the East African community of the Twin Cities are joining together to win better working conditions for themselves and all workers. As a community of 100,000 individuals, many of whom work in low-wage industries, they have faced unsafe workplaces, a lack of religious accommodations, and retaliation when they have tried to stand up for their rights.

Fellowship Plans

Dan supports streamlined processes to handle wage theft claims and other labor violations that construction workers face; promote awareness-raising, education and training for construction workers on BDR standards; and promote the implementation of BDR standards at the municipal level and where Centro De Trabajadores Unidos En La Lucha works.

The Project

Through the Worker Protection Program at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, Symone (she/her/hers) will advocate on behalf of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in low-income jobs, through direct representation and worker rights education in employment discrimination claims, wage theft claims, and worker safety issues.

The Capital Region of New York, (Albany, Schenectady, and Rensselaer Counties), has a disproportionate population of low-income workers who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Roughly 25% of service jobs in the capital region are held by BIPOC, yet this group makes up only 14% of the workforce.  The Black population makes up only 6% of the workforce and has a 13% unemployment rate. Adding to this disparity, Black, low-income, workers have significant barriers to employment as they represent 83% of individuals seeking reentry services and 61% of individuals seeking employment-related legal services at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. The Worker Protection Program fills a vital need in the community as the only free legal service provider of direct representation, and education for low-income workers of color experiencing employment discrimination, wage theft, and workplace safety issues.

Fellowship Plans

 During her Fellowship, Symone will provide direct representation to low-income workers of color for employment discrimination claims, wage theft claims, and workplace safety issues. Symone will launch a “know your rights in the workplace” campaign by engaging low-income workers in the area and coordinating with local community-based organizations and service providers that serve low-income workers.

Growing up in a working-class family taught me that your wages do not determine whether you get to work with a sense of pride and dignity.

Symone Wango /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Callen (they/them/theirs) will represent low-income immigrants in New York City who are entangled in the immigration and criminal legal systems on workers’ rights and related immigration issues through direct representation, systemic litigation, and policy reform.

Immigrant workers in low-wage and informal jobs in New York City face exploitative working conditions with little recourse. For immigrant workers who are also entangled in the immigration and/or criminal legal systems (“crimmigration systems”), the consequences are dire: deadly workplace conditions, discrimination, wage theft, financial instability due to job loss, and the ever-looming threat of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While NYC law affords workers many protections, low-wage immigrant workers are unable to enforce these rights without legal representation, and fear of repercussions often prevents immigrant workers from asserting their rights. When these workers are arrested, even when charges are dismissed, immigration and workplace consequences may remain. Located within a public defense office, the project will provide representation for low-wage immigrant workers entangled in the immigration systems who are otherwise isolated and hard to reach.

Fellowship Plans

Callen will represent immigrant workers at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) involved in the immigration and criminal legal systems on issues of worker safety, paid leave, wage theft, and discrimination via administrative agency enforcement, litigation, arbitration, and mediation. For undocumented workers, Callen will work with BDS’s immigration practice to file U and T Visa applications for clients whose work conditions make them eligible for this form of immigration relief. Additionally, Callen will create materials to educate attorneys working within the immigration and criminal legal systems about common workers’ rights claim their clients may have.

I was drawn to Brooklyn Defender Services because of their commitment to building worker power for those who are often most excluded from safe, equitable workplaces.

Callen Lowell /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Gabo (he/him/his) will advance the rights of low-wage, Spanish-speaking workers in Yakima, Washington, experiencing wage theft, health and safety violations, discrimination, and retaliation.

In May 2020, warehouse workers across the Yakima Valley walked off the job demanding stronger protections as COVID-19 raged across their workplaces. Overwhelmingly Latino and often undocumented, these workers suffered the highest rate of infection on the West Coast, with no access to unemployment, workers’ compensation, or adequate health care. No other legal services provider in the state can help individual workers in employment matters regardless of immigration status. As a result, Yakima workers face a profound access-to-justice gap that makes it nearly impossible to recover stolen wages, enforce workplace safety protections, and fight discrimination in the workplace.

Fellowship Plans 

Gabo will represent individual workers with wage theft, health and safety, discrimination, and retaliation claims. He will also provide assistance to workers filing administrative complaints with state agencies. Alongside Fair Work Center’s Yakima-based educators, he will develop Spanish-language know your rights materials for Yakima workers. Finally, he will develop strategies to increase Washington labor agency enforcement of state wage and hour and health and safety standards.

Media

Meet Gabo Gutierrez

Three Class of 2021 grads have been awarded the Equal Justice Works Fellowship

As the child of a Latino immigrant, I went to law school to use my language skills to empower workers. Fair Work Center’s holistic model creates the opportunity for the type of collaborative, creative approaches I’ve seen transform the conditions and power dynamics of workplaces.

Gabo Gutierrez /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow