Monday, January 28, 2008

Volunteering ....

Since I am not really involved with too many on campus groups and have some free time, I decided that I need to volunteer more. I am not counting being a mentor to 1L's at school or a community mentor with the Puente Project since those don't really take more than a couple of hours per month.

I decided to volunteer a few hours per week at the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County. This organization provides free legal clinics for individuals with wage claims or criminal record expungement request. Basically, I will do intake for individuals and advise them on how to legally move forward with their problems. This is of course all supervised by an attorney so that I don't give them bad advice. I get my training this weekend, but I was able to shadow another volunteer last Wednesday.

We only saw two people. The first one was a lady who from her account had been discriminated at her job because of her age. She works for the company that hires the people who do the free samples at stores like Costco (the sample people don't work for Costo, I did not know that). Basically, her blood pressure pills force her to go to the bathroom frequently, but she is not allowed to leave her sample table. After trying to explain that her medication was the problem she was suspended. The supervisors at this place were very rude and said horrible things which I will not repeat. Legally, there was not much that we could do for her. It was sad to tell her this. She did not want her job back, just somebody to tell her that she was right and force her boss to be nice. There are no laws for people being jerks. This was close to discrimination, but not quite. Also, we don't do discrimination suits so she would have to hire her own attorney at great cost.

The second guy that came to see us had several complains. Sexual harassment (from her lesbian boss, I am not making his up!), discrimination, IRS wage garnishing errors, wage claims dealing with lack of overtime, work off-clock, and incorrect wage calculations. He has a lawyer who is dealing with the sexual harassment and discriminations suits, but refused to take any of the wage claims. You will soon find out why.

He alleges that for a period of two years while he was working at this place the computer kept recording incorrect punch-in and punch-out times. He would come in at 4am but the computer would show 7am, he would leave at 9pm, and the computer would show 6pm. He was also living in an a room at the place he was working (yup, living at work, cough:might be illegal:: cough) and was often force to work when he was supposed to be resting "at home". He also claims that the company garnished his wages illegally, claiming it was for the IRS. Oh yeah, and all of this is from his memory and he has no record of his actual hours working. Figuring out how much money he is owed is going to be a logistical nightmare. He is coming back next wednesday with a calendar showing (from memory) how much he worked each day for the last two years and we are going to calculate how much money he is owed. This is going to be complicated, no wonder the other lawyer did not want to deal with it. This is case where are probably going to end up representing him.

At the end of the night, I also heard stories from the other volunteers and the people they saw. Including a family who works at a car wash who gets paid less than minimum wage, no over time, no worker's compensation (for job injuries), and forced to buy their own supplies (like Windex!). This made me sick. Makes me not want to ever take my car to a carwash. Apparently this happens frequently in this industry. If you use these places, give your washers a good tip, sometimes that is all they get.

People suck.