Upcoming programs at DC Public Library East of the River will help District residents with criminal records search for a job. "Ban the Box," a DC law passed in 2014, says that certain employers are not allowed to inquire about criminal background on initial job application forms, and can ask about criminal convictions only after making a conditional offer of employment. A series of interactive workshops, facilitated by lawyers from Bread for the City and Neighborhood Legal Services Program, will teach residents about the new law and will walk participants through the process of filing a complaint if their rights are violated. The next workshop in the series takes place Wednesday, March 18, at 11:00 a.m. at the Anacostia Library on 1800 Good Hope Road SE. Additional Ban the Box workshops, along with more East of the River programming, is planned in the coming months as well.
By Daniel Choi In a small room at the Francis Gregory library in Ward 7, a staff attorney from the Neighborhood Legal Services Program is ready for a different kind of legal clinic—one targeting the needs of people trying to get jobs. The librarian makes an announcement over the speaker, and in the course of two short hours, seven people stop by for free one-on-one legal consultations about their criminal records, discrimination, wage theft, credit reports, suspended drivers licenses, and other barriers to employment. NLSP launched Jobseeker Legal Clinics in October 2014 as part of its larger Breaking Barriers to Employment project. An NLSP attorney visits DC Public Library branches across the District, including those, like Francis Gregory, located East of the River. NLSP is hoping to reach low-income and homeless library patrons who are seeking work but whose legal barriers are preventing them from obtaining and keeping stable employment. Since the project began, NLSP has held nearly 60 Jobseeker Legal Clinics and 10 know-your-rights presentations, and has performed over 165 individual legal consultations at various branches of the DC Public Library. Jobseeker Clinics will resume in fall 2015. Why hold clinics at the Library? While the overall economy is improving, this is not true for all residents of Washington, DC. According to December 2014 numbers, Wards 6, 7, and 8 had respective unemployment rates of 6.2 percent, 13 percent, and 16.3 percent; the national unemployment rate was 5.6 percent during the same period. With the transition from paper to electronic job applications, and the high cost of computer and internet access, more and more unemployed DC residents are turning to the Library as a resource for their job application needs. In fact, according to the American Library Association, nearly two-thirds of libraries provide the only free computer and internet access in their communities. Fortunately, DC Public Library is leading a national trend in transforming library spaces from passive information repositories to active social-service centers. With 25 branches around the city, including seven locations East of the River, the DC Public Library is already in communities where help is needed. The Library recently hired a full-time social worker, and many librarians are already systematically assisting patrons with computer skills, cover letters, and resumes. From the legal end, NLSP provides assistance and resources to librarians and patrons alike. With an official partnership in place, NLSP is trying to connect low-income library patrons with legal and social-service organizations throughout the city. NLSP is interested in expanding our partnerships and involving more pro bono attorneys in the library. Ultimately, the goal is to break down barriers to employment—both systemically and one barrier at a time. For more information about NLSP, the Breaking Barriers to Employment Project, or Jobseeker Legal Clinics, please visit www.nlsp.org. For specific questions, please contact Heather Hodges, Pro Bono Counsel, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 269-5119.
By Caroline Fleming Other than a few projects in school, Carla Chambers didn’t have much experience volunteering when she contacted the DC Employment Justice Center. A trained paralegal, Carla sought to volunteer with the DCEJC as a way to expand her experience and knowledge while simultaneously helping others. It ended up becoming one of the most rewarding experiences of her professional life. Carla has served as a DCEJC intake volunteer since June 2014, and she is the primary point of contact with clients seeking help with employment problems. She meets with clients, learns about their workplace issues, and consults with DCEJC’s volunteer attorneys to provide the best advice for each client’s situation. Carla has helped workers with their employment problems but has also noticed that these issues are “very personal in terms of the pride people have in working and wanting to continue to work.” Apart from the professional experience she’s gained in employment law, Carla has been moved by what she calls the “huge responsibility to thoroughly tell my clients’ stories.” Carla has been struck most by the dignity and work ethic of the individuals who seek help from DCEJC. Although her clients have a wide range of employment issues, Carla has noticed a trend: they are all “determined to resolve their issues and move on with their working lives.” Carla encourages everyone to take time to volunteer. In addition to learning new skills and growing professionally, she has discovered the rewards of helping workers solve their employment problems and move forward. Wherever her career takes her, Carla plans to continue volunteering to help people who “just need a little advice and help through the process, whatever the process is.” To learn more, or to volunteer for the Workers’ Rights Clinics sponsored by the DCEJC, email the Clinic Coordinator or visit the Volunteer Page.
By Caroline Fleming Recognizing that workers living East of the River needed greater access to their services, last September the DC Employment Justice Center launched an expanded monthly clinic in Fairlawn. The clinic, which had previously been open every other Friday morning, is now open to clients on one Saturday each month. The clinic offers help with a full range of issues addressed by the DCEJC, including Family and Medical Leave Act violations, unpaid wages and overtime, unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, unlawful discrimination and harassment, and wrongful termination. As the DCEJC's Executive Director Barbra Kavanaugh explained, clients East of the River were finding the weekday-only clinic difficult to fit into their busy schedules. The DCEJC moved the clinic to Saturdays as a way to provide greater access for residents. Because the need for workplace justice continues to grow, the DCEJC has also introduced a second clinic with a new partner, the Neighborhood Legal Services Program. This clinic takes place during the week, allowing workers whose schedules don’t permit Saturday visits to receive employment law assistance as well. The schedule changes were spurred by the DCEJC’s interest in community lawyering. The expanded access shows that the DCEJC is committed to helping the East of the River community ensure that workplace justice is fully available. To learn more, or to volunteer for the workers’ rights clinics sponsored by the DCEJC, email the Clinic Coordinator or visit their volunteering page. The DCEJC weekend clinic takes place on the last Saturday of each month, from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., at the Fairlawn office of long-time DCEJC partner Bread for the City (1640 Good Hope Road, SE). The DCEJC/NLSP clinic takes place on the first and third Friday afternoons of each month, from noon to 3:00 p.m., at 2811 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE.