May 1 Labor Marches Keep Lawyers on Their Toes

With immigrants nationwide taking to the streets in a show of power Monday, many advocates worried marchers would face discipline or even firing for skipping work.

For now, employers in California seem to be taking a cautious approach, management-side lawyers say.

Felicia Reid, a partner at Curiale Dellaverson Hirschfeld & Kraemer, says, “We are counseling employers, but so far nobody wants to fire anybody.”

She says her firm did receive a call from a client who surveyed employees and decided to shut down for the day upon realizing that about two-thirds of its workforce would be out.

The Change to Win Labor Federation, a coalition of union groups, has already filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board naming a dozen companies around the country that have taken action against employees. And in response to reports that Miami authorities had been arresting workers in anticipation of the protests, Change to Win asked the Department of Homeland Security to invoke a section of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Special Agent’s Field Manual that bars the agency from getting involved in national labor disputes.

San Francisco’s Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center is one of several organizations in the Bay Area working to educate immigrants about their rights.

The not-for-profit developed a fact sheet in Chinese, English and Spanish, and is running a hotline for employees with questions and complaints. So far, says attorney Matthew Goldberg, most of the calls have been from people with questions about their legal standing should they miss work. For instance, one employer was requiring doctor’s notes from those who called in sick.

While workers have legal protections since they are marching for political purposes, Goldberg says their situations vary depending upon employer policies and how consistently they are enforced.

“I am afraid that we will see more [actions taken against employees],” Goldberg says.

Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld partner David Rosenfeld, who drafted the Change to Win complaint, agrees there seems to be a fair amount of accommodation on behalf of employers with unionized workers.

Still, he doesn’t know how others will react. And he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see discrimination suits filed over race or national origin in the wake of the May 1 rallies.

“There probably will be a lot more things happening,” Rosenfeld says.

Marie-Anne Hogarth



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