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Loyola's Workplace Justice Project Receives Large Grant

By Loyola University on Mon, 01/04/2021 - 12:34

With $450,000 in funding from the Kellogg Foundation, Loyola’s Workplace Justice Project will help Louisianans address inequity in the workplace

(New Orleans – December 18, 2020) The Workplace Justice Project of the Loyola University New Orleans College of Law celebrates a new three-year research grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation that will help to improve economic security of low-wage workers and families in Louisiana as the clinic educates workers on their rights and responsibilities, provides increased access to legal services and promotes equitable workforce policies.
The realities of low-wage work, difficult pre-COVID-19, have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and the generous grant funding will help support the Workplace Justice Project’s work on behalf of our most vulnerable workers and working families.

“Litigation and education drive advocacy,” said Luz Molina, Jack Nelson Distinguished Professor of Law. “With the help of this grant, Loyola lawyers will both be able to provide education and increased access to legal representation to low-wage workers at a crucial time for our state - and, in so doing, further promote fairness in the workplace and in the courts.”

Known for tackling tough workplace issues, such as meaningful wages, paid sick leave, and protections that challenge discrimination, the Workplace Justice Project is one of seven nationally recognized legal clinics at Loyola New Orleans. Founded as a response to Hurricane Katrina, in late 2005, to meet the legal services needs of mostly immigrant low-wage workers, the WJP represents low-income workers who earn below  200 percent of the federal poverty level.  The $450,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation marks the third large award the WJP has received from the national foundation since 2016 to do this critical work.

In addition to providing legal representation and assistance with wage collection, the Workplace Justice Project serves as a consistently available referral resource for low-wage workers in the greater New Orleans area. The clinic also provides valuable education to both industry and residents on equity benchmarks – namely good jobs, collective action, and fair wages. 

The Project has identified six critical factors that play into economic equity: work, health, education, transportation, the criminal justice system and housing. In this next phase of work, the Project will address workforce inequities in light of these other factors. 
Racial equity is key to the achievement of economic equity, said Erika Zucker, Policy Advocate.

The Project continues to push to expand services across all racial lines, to the most under-represented Louisianans. In 2019, for the first time, Black workers were an intake majority, making the Project’s client base more representative of the racial make-up of New Orleans, now with a Black population of 59.7%. 

“This is crucial for us in addressing racial equity and indicates that our work with community stakeholders has increased our capacity to better reach individuals in need,” said Andrea Agee, Staff Attorney. “In all we do, we strive to give voice of our most vulnerable and provide the access and knowledge needed to move realistically toward improved outcomes.”

Recent statistics show that in 2019, the WJP recovered approximately 90% in litigated claims; as of midyear 2020, the Project’s wage clinic has recovered 100% of wages in litigated claims. It also pivoted quickly in response to Covid-19, working collaboratively to address the emerging legal needs of workers. 

For example, in 2020, as part of the Coalition for a Fair Fund for Hospitality Workers, the Project sought a worker relief fund for all affected workers in the New Orleans' tourism and hospitality industries and worked with state legislators to develop policy support for a paid sick leave bill and return control of paid leave to local governments, both of which would address worker health. 

In addition, the Project collaborated on resolutions to adapt the unemployment insurance program to the current crisis and co-sponsored a town hall to extend the federal unemployment expansion. 

Educational webinars for low-wage workers in 2020 have focused on how the framework for building equity in New Orleans can adapt in response to Covid-19 – and the urgent need to address structural racism and police brutality.