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Five Ways We Are Making a Difference
1. Narrowing California’s “Justice Gap”: California, with the nation’s largest low-income population, has a critical shortage of legal services, with just one legal aid lawyer for every 8,361 low-income individuals. We provide free legal help to more than 1,500 low-wage clients each year and reach thousands more through educational materials, trainings and self-help tools. Our attorneys conduct presentations that reach thousands of advocates and grassroots organizers on employment-related topics including discrimination, domestic violence, pregnancy, language proficiency, paid family leave, wage and hour and unemployment, disability access and accommodation, immigration and national origin and harassment. We are one of the few legal aid groups in the country that provide the full range of legal services, from advice given at our Workers’ Rights Clinics to representation in court.
2. Maintaining Self Sufficiency: Most of the clients we serve earn wages at or below the federal poverty line or are unemployed, often living just one paycheck away from homelessness. Their jobs are essential to their ability to provide themselves and their families with the basic necessities: food, clothing and shelter. Our assistance is a critical lifeline for vulnerable workers who are underpaid, who have earned wages that have been illegally withheld, or who are threatened with the loss of their livelihoods because of unlawful policies and practices. Often our intervention keeps families from cycling into poverty and dependence upon public aid.
3. Helping Diverse Communities: In recent years, more than 70% of our clinic clients have been members of minority groups and over 20% had a disability. We have published legal fact sheets on nearly 100 subjects in several languages including English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese. We also host weekly “Know Your Rights” programs on two leading Chinese-language radio and newspaper outlets that reach an audience of 615,000 listeners and readers statewide. We have staff members who are fluent in Chinese and Spanish and work with interpreters who speak a wide array of languages and help us to assist clients on an as-needed basis. These activities and resources allow us to serve clients from the many communities living and working in the Bay Area and around the state.
4. Strengthening the Future of Public Interest Law: With the pro bono assistance of over 100 volunteer attorneys from the private bar, we continue our organization’s long history of mentoring new generations of lawyers. We train more than 100 law student counselors annually, work with student interns during the academic year and conduct a full summer law clerkship program that attracts outstanding candidates from major law schools across the country. We have also had a long succession of Skadden Fellows who work with our program staff, and our attorneys regularly teach at Bay Area law schools. Through these targeted efforts, we have inspired and encouraged hundreds of law students to seek careers as public interest attorneys or to become involved in pro bono projects at their places of business.
5. Changing Lives—One Case at a Time:
Barbara F. is a single African-American woman in her fifties who was homeless before beginning her job as a live-in cook and housekeeper. Despite working four to eight hours a day, seven days a week, she was initially paid only $30 per week. After 15 months, her weekly salary was increased to $125. Barbara was fired shortly after receiving this “raise” and was ordered to move out. Our Wage and Hour Project negotiated an immediate settlement for her in the amount of $18,000, in full payment of what she was owed in back wages and overtime.
Carla T. was repeatedly attacked by her partner, often right before she left to go to work. This is a common tactic used by batterers to undermine the financial independence of their victims. Her supervisor logged her visits to the emergency room to treat her injuries as “no call, no show” absences and fired her. The Society’s pioneering domestic violence and employment initiative, Project SURVIVE recovered Carla’s lost pay and benefits, got her job back, and helped her transfer to a new work site.
These are just two examples of the thousands of people we have assisted, helping them to regain not only their employment and wages owed but also their dignity.