Taking Stock: The Vital Work Ahead

Author: 
Aurora Martin

Dear Friend of Justice,

The holiday season is approaching, but many of us and the communities we fight for are feeling confusion, anger, and fear. We'll be in touch again soon to offer some thoughts and strategies for a just path forward. 

Today, I want to share with you some of the victories we've won together with our clients and allies over the last few months, mindful of the vital work ahead. We’ve been taking advantage of the time between legislative sessions to build relationships and develop strategies that will help advance basic workers’ rights, support just systems and programs, and create opportunity for our clients during the next session in January. Alongside this work, advocates working with key allies have launched strategic campaigns aimed at achieving social and economic justice and working toward a more inclusive and equitable society.

We hope you will join us in working toward a strong finish for justice this year. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to fill out our survey, we are asking for your input on how we can strengthen our communications with you, our supporters and partners.

Yours in Advocacy,
Aurora

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Standing with Farm Workers

In July, advocates with our Working Families Project began distributing funds to over 700 farm workers in the Yakima Valley who were on the winning side of a hard-fought class action settlement. The lawsuit, Saucedo v. NW Management, was filed in 2012, after a group of ten farmworkers alleged they were fired by their employer, NW Management, in retaliation for contacting authorities because their foreman was routinely displaying and shooting his gun in the orchards to intimidate the workers and cheat them of their wages. Several of the fired farmworkers had worked at the same orchards for more than a decade.

After years of litigation, we successfully reached an agreement whereby the companies agreed to pay all damages awarded to the farm workers—just over $1 million—which Judge Thomas O. Rice quickly approved so the funds could be promptly distributed. Each worker has received approximately $1,000-$3,000 depending on how many seasons she or he worked.

“I feel that we did something right for everybody. Not just by calling police, but by getting everyone together in a group and speaking up," said Sandra Saucedo who is one of the class members and is pictured here with her family and other class members. “We have rights. We don’t have to be afraid. We have the right to speak up.”

Fair Access to Hospital Care

Too many low-income families in Washington State face barriers when health problems arise, a primary obstacle being cost., Our Basic Human Needs and Economic Justice Projects are teaming up to work closely with patients and allies to help break down these barriers to affordable health care so all families can thrive.

The Washington State Charity Care Act requires that all hospitals in the state provide Charity Care in order to ensure http://www.columbialegal.org/sites/default/files/DSCF4729%20%282%29_1.jpgaccess to health care for low-income residents. However, most patients who are eligible do not receive Charity Care; low-income uninsured and underinsured patients have been consistently denied access to Charity Care at hospitals across Washington State. In June 2016, patient advocates announced a class action lawsuit against Northwest Hospital in Seattle, Washington for failing to meet its responsibility to screen patients for Charity Care. The hospital instead sends the medical bills to collections and many patients have their wages garnished, often turning patients into debtors.

We aim not only to win this case for our clients, but to change policies and procedures that improves awareness and access for all eligible patients. We launched a public education campaign to inform low-income patients and the broader public about Charity Care and to stand with eligible patients across the state who are not screened for Charity Care as required by law and do not receive financial assistance they deserve. Our campaign includes litigation to enforce existing statutes and requirements for hospitals to affirmatively identify patients’ eligibility, policy reform to increase access to Charity Care, and research, education, and analysis that informs Washingtonians about their rights.

Eliminating Pesticide Exposure

Pesticide exposure causes farm workers to suffer more chemically-related injuries and illnesses than any other occupational group in the nation. However, those exposed frequently do not seek medical care for pesticide illness for reasons including; lack of awareness of workers’ compensation benefits, lack of health insurance, and fear of retaliation for reporting the exposure. We’re working to improve worker health and safety and improve systems of pesticide notification and accountability in Washington State.

Seven orchard workers filed a lawsuit in Yakima Superior Court in October against Jones Produce and Ag Air Flying http://www.columbialegal.org/sites/default/files/poison%20control.jpgService alleging they were exposed to pesticides during a crop-dusting application of several restricted-use pesticides, causing them to fall ill. Modesta Arista Gomez and her daughter Rocio Gomez bravely stood up to share their story and join the lawsuit, along with others, as plaintiffs.

These two women - along with Viviana, who suffered from a separate case of pesticide drift exposure near Wenatchee - share their powerful, first-hand accounts in a documentary we produced, Poison Control: Protecting the Health of the People Who Feed Us. Our video was featured in this year’s Social Justice Film Festival.

No worker should have to fear exposure to pesticides or other toxic chemicals at work. We’re using a multi-pronged approach to help clients fight back against pesticide exposure including; pursing legislation to effectively reduce drift exposure, continuing work to shine the light on pesticide exposure through litigating of pesticide exposure cases, and participating in state and national advocacy on pesticide use.