Columbia Legal Services Working Families Project
My name is Antonia Alejandra Macias and I am working with the Columbia Legal Services (CLS) Working Families Project to protect the rights of farm workers in Central and Eastern Washington. CLS is a non-profit civil legal aid organization serving low-income people in Washington. CLS engages in systemic advocacy through multiple legal forums including legislative, administrative rule-making, litigation, transactional and special project based work. I am part of a statewide outreach team, educating farm workers on basic employment and related rights through visits to farmworker housing, community presentations, and radio advocacy. I also provide legal research and assist in case planning for litigation or administrative actions on behalf of low-wage workers. I am currently working with a team of attorneys on investigating a large farm-worker employment case involving farm labor contracting violations, wage violations, and retaliatory discharge. My internship is important to me because I want to provide access to justice for the exploited farmworker community in Washington and help create systemic change. Moreover, I believe outreach is essential in getting people to understand when they have been denied their rights and how they can utilize legal services to correct an injustice.
June 21, 2012
I focused the first half of my day on researching tort law as related to Central Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) and writing a memo for my supervising attorney. In the Yakima Valley, there are over 62 CAFO’s, which house over 500 animals on their properties. My research is focused on whether residents of a rural area have a cause of action available to them against a CAFO that is causing unbearable odors to emanate at their homes. My research is successful and determined that a nuisance and negligence cause of action would be appropriate in this situation. However, it would be an uphill battle because of Washington’s stance on protecting certain agricultural practices.
My second half of the day was spent driving out to Pasco and Walla Walla around 4:00 p.m. with an outreach team composed of the following Northwest Justice Project Staff: Staff Attorney, Outreach Coordinator, Laurel Rubin Intern, and a Jesuit Volunteer Legal Assistant. In Pasco, we went to visit H2-A farmworkers, who were working for Zirkle Fruit. We arrived at their housing units, which housed 98 workers and spoke to them about their rights. We provided a Legal Aide Newspaper “El Faro,” which is only in Spanish and provides a detailed overview of their rights and what to do if they have a problem at work. Most of the workers were very young between the ages of early twenties to mid-thirties. After we left the farmworker camps, we went to the Washington State Migrant Council Farmworker Daycare in Walla Walla. We performed skits for about fifty migrant farmworker parents, which shed light on employment and sexual harassment problems in the workplace. Most farmworkers don’t know their rights or are afraid to exercise their rights. After our skits we try to get the audience involved in questions and answers to gauge their familiarity with the laws. This particular group was very active and they knew the minimum wage laws and what to do if they weren’t getting paid what they were supposed to. After the presentations, we also made sure to inform the parents about CLEAR and other legal services they can obtain at no cost.
July 24, 2012
On Tuesday, July 24, 2012, I spent my day finishing up an article for an information legal newspaper, preparing for client interviews and driving to Royal City to conduct two client interviews. The article is in Spanish and English, and focused on the rights of children who qualify under the McKinney-Vento Act. Children who qualify are homeless or do not have adequate or permanent housing. The client interviews were for a farm worker class action suit. I was responsible for establishing the criteria for compensation of emotional distress, interviewing the clients, and calculating the lost wages. My supervising attorney recently filed the complaint, which is a class action suit that could include as many as 100 plaintiffs. The lawsuit would cover anyone who worked at 2 different orchards between 2009 and 2011.
The lawsuit alleges the workers were fired in the fall of 2011 after an investigation of the foreman’s use of a firearm by the state Department of Labor and Industries could not substantiate the claims against him. To interview the clients I drove about an hour and 20 minutes from Yakima to Royal City and spent an hour and a half with two of our clients who are married. The clients welcomed me into their home and answered all of my questions without any hesitation. Overall, the interviews went well and it was a great experience.