Mark Birhanu

  • Hosted by Raise the Floor Alliance
  • Sponsored by Anonymous
  • Service location Chicago, Illinois
  • Law school Yale Law School
  • Issue area Criminal Records Relief, Workers' Rights
  • Fellowship class year 2019
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Mark’s Fellowship served to bring more Black Chicagoans into the city’s worker center movement. Mark provided on-site trainings on navigating the criminal records relief process at worker centers and litigated a variety of employment law matters on behalf of Black workers.

Black Chicagoans possess criminal records at disproportionate rates due to the over-criminalization of, and under-investment in, their communities. Those with criminal histories often cannot obtain jobs at all or are pushed into highly exploitative work. Addressing this problem requires both assisting Black Chicagoans with clearing their records and vindicating their employment law rights, and supporting grassroots social movements aimed at confronting underlying systemic issues.

Chicago is currently witnessing a mass exodus of Black residents. This project emerged from a concern for that troubling reality. Mark worked to ensure that Black Chicagoans have access to well-paying, non-exploitative work so that they can remain in the city that they call home.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Mark:

  • Assisted a group of workers in presenting their demands to their employer in a manner that provided them with legal protections for their organizing activities and linked them to a union (which ultimately worked with the group to successfully organize the workplace.)
  • Took on discrimination in the temporary staffing and warehousing industries by participating in class action lawsuits brought against companies that refused to hire Black workers.
  • Provided know your rights trainings to worker center organizers on a variety of issues in employment law, including wage theft, discrimination, and local ordinance violations.
  • Built a partnership with a local law school clinic which has provided expungement and sealing services for dozens of workers to date.

Next Steps

Mark will be staying on with Raise the Floor Alliance – Legal Department as a Staff Attorney!

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