Women Farmworkers: Know Your Rights
TRANSLATION FROM TAPE TRANSCRIPTION
Manuelita Ybarra: Welcome and Opening Remarks
In November of 1999, Irasema T. Garza was confirmed as the 14 Director of the U.S. Department of Labor Women's Bureau. The Woman's Bureau was created by Congress in 1920 with a mandate to "promote the welfare of wage-earning women," and is the only federal agency charged with advocating on behalf of women in the workforce.
This is not Ms. Garza's first position with this Administration or the Department of Labor. She has been heading up Departmental Initiatives -- both domestic and international -- since 1994.
From January through July 1994, Ms. Garza served as Executive Director of the Congressional Commission on Family and Medical Leave, then housed at the Women's Bureau. She laid the foundation for the Commission's comprehensive report on the impact of the Family and Medical Leave Act on workers and employers across the country.
In August of 1994, the Secretary, Alexis Herman, appointed Ms. Garza head of the U.S. National Administrative office, a position that she held until taking leadership of the Women's Bureau. The U.S. National Administrative Office administers the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, that represents the labor side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As it's first Secretary, Ms. Garza worked closely with her Mexican and Canadian counterparts to establish critical procedures for handling labor issues related to free trade.
Before joining the Department of Labor, Ms. Garza practiced law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for nine years.
Throughout her career, Ms. Garza has championed the concerns of Hispanic Americans in this country. In 1999, the Hispanic Magazine recognized her efforts and her work by naming her one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the country. Ms. Garza has also been an active member in the labor movement, serving on the Executive Board of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) for seven years.
Ms. Garza received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Michigan. A native of the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, she currently lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband, Hector, and their two children.
It gives me great pleasure to introduce to you Ms. Irasema Tapia Garza.
Irasema Garza: Federal and Legal Protection for Women
Good afternoon. Thank you Manuelita for the long and beautiful introduction that you have given me. I think that what this shows is that I've been working for many years and now I'm not so young. I am very pleased to be here with you. It is a great pleasure for me to have this opportunity to come and speak with Spanish-speaking women about their rights. As Ms. Ybarra was mentioning, the Women's Bureau was created by the U.S. Congress in 1920. It's mission is to promote working women's rights. One of the things for which I have been very fortunate in this position, is being able to work with the Secretary of Employment, Ms. Alexis Herman. She is in President Clinton's Cabinet. When I first came to this office in November, and the Senate of the United States confirmed me, she asked me to work with these workshops, with these conferences, to bring women farmworkers, Latinas, information about their rights. This was very important to me.
My parents came from Mexico in the 1940's. They came to the United States the same as many immigrants--without knowing English, without any training or formal education. As soon as they arrived, they dedicated themselves to working in the field. We dedicated ourselves to that as I know many families here have done. As a small child I traveled with my parents, lived in the fields and migrated every summer to the State of Michigan and Ohio. But as was stated, I am from the Rio Grande Valley...
Well, two things. I would always hear that there was a lot of Latinos that would come from this part of the country. I always wanted to see the Yakima Valley and I am very glad to be here. It is really very important to me to travel across the country to share with you some information about your legal rights.
This afternoon I will share with you some information regarding women's rights in just two areas. One is sexual harassment and the other is pregnancy discrimination. Fortunately, I have some colleagues here with me that are from other federal and state agencies that will give you some information on other topics concerning health, hygiene at work, wages and hours, and domestic violence, etc.. I would like to ask a favor of you, that you will share with others what you learn here. Now you are like the little girl that said: "The hands of God." You must take this information to those that were not able to be here with us. It's very important that Latina women unite and support one another. This is the only way that we will be able to win our rights, etc..
Now, before I continue with my presentation I would like to emphasize two things. One is, as I was saying, I have experience in being a migrant. I know what it means to live out in the fields. It is only because I had the opportunity, God's blessing, and I was able to continue my education. My mother would tell me when I was a little girl while we were out in the fields: "You really don't like this do you, my child?" I would say: "No, mommy. This is a very difficult life." Then she would say: "Do you want to get out of having to do this?" I would say: "Sure, mommy. This is hard." Then she would say: "Well you know you need to get an education. You need to stick with it. One of the things that we were not able to take advantage of, and one of the reasons that we came to this country, is so that our children can have a better opportunity." I thank God that I was able to continue with my studies until I became an attorney in one of the best schools on the East Coast. Then later I continued my practice. Another thing, I was fortunate to have worked with President Clinton and Vice President Gore's administration since 1994. It has been a great honor and pleasure to be able to serve my country and work with the President of the United States. Most importantly, the President has appointed more Hispanics to his administration than any other president in the history of the United States. This is very important. Why is that so important? I would not be here, there would not be any person here at my level talking with you about your rights or about the things that are so important to our community. Our community is as important as any other community and we need this type of representation. I would like to tell you that whenever I am at a meeting, be it in the Department of Labor, the White House, or anywhere else, my responsibility is not only to the President or to Vice President Gore or to Ms. Alexis Herman, but it is to my Latino community and that is why it is so important that we have people involved.
And now, I would like to ask forgiveness because I started my talk being a little nervous. It's so important to me that you learn what we have to share with you, that I feel a little more nervous and I feel a little more pressure than when I go and speak to other groups. I travel all over the country and I don't get nervous-but you are so important to me and that made me a little nervous-and I forgot to even thank those people that worked so hard to organize this. This is the third workshop that I have given in the United States and there are many more people here than in the other areas. The others were in California and Florida. So we appreciate very much what all of you ladies and organizers have done but especially Ms. Ninfa Gutierrez. Thank you very much Ninfa. She is the "hand of God." I just found out during the hour that I've been here just how much she does for the community. So, thank you very much and thanks for all of your support. I think we should also show our appreciation to Ms. Karen Furia. She is the regional director for this area and has her office in Seattle. I am the head of the Bureau and my national office is in Washington. Also, I have ten regional offices throughout the country. One of these offices is in Seattle and Karen Furia is the director. Manuelita Ybarra, who introduced me, also works for me in that office. She has done a lot of work to bring you this workshop. So, thank you very much. Congratulations to all.
Well then, because we do not have much time, I was going to take advantage of this occasion this afternoon to speak to you a little about the legal protections that are granted to agricultural workers. I would like to start by speaking about something that everyone asks everywhere I go in this country. That is legal status. It does not matter if you have documents or if you do not have documents to be in this country, the laws protect you also. If nothing else is learned from this workshop, I ask that you take this information to your neighbors, to your "sisters" because this is very important and our community needs to know that just by being in this country, they have the same legal benefits that any other citizen has. So this is very important. The only thing is that what you are going to be learning today has nothing to do with citizenship. Okay? So everyone is covered, and hopefully, as I was saying, this event will give you the information and resources that will help you exercise your rights in your place of employment.
Whenever I travel to these workshops, whether they are in English or in Spanish, and am speaking to women, we try to find the best way that the workers can learn from this. This is completely voluntary. We have distributed a copy of a test. It is an exercise that is totally voluntary that can help you learn at this workshop. If you do not know the answer to any of the questions, don't worry. This happens very frequently and the majority of women in the United States, whether they speak English or not, whether they are Latina or not, do not know the answers. The purpose of my job and the work that my office does is to go out and share this valuable information with you. Are you ready?
The two areas that we will analyze now, as I already mentioned, is from the Women's Bureau. The piece that I will be presenting is regarding sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination. So like I mentioned, I have colleagues that I will introduce when it's their turn to speak. They will be speaking on other subjects that are also very important to you. So then, what we will do is, I will share with you some extremely negative situations regarding some employers, that may or may not know, voluntarily or involuntarily, that at times do not follow the law.
Let's start first with sexual harassment. I know that this continues to be a very serious problem, not only for the Latino community but to all women in their place of employment. Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination, of gender, that is prohibited by law. That law is Title 7, Civil Rights Act of 1964. In essence, sexual harassment occurs each time that sexual conduct is non-consentual. If a person, whether it be a manager or a boss touches a women, touches her hair and she does not want to be touched and does not want to have anything to do with it, this is sexual harassment. A touch constitutes sexual harassment. So it doesn't have to be rape, for example, to constitute sexual harassment. This type of conduct can take place in the form of unconsented sexual conduct, petitions for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature, such as, putting up pornographic photographs or calendars, jokes, stories with sexual connotations, gestures, etc.. All these things that make us feel bad or uncomfortable at work can constitute sexual harassment We all know what these things are. It is very important that women know this. Victims of sexual harassment can be men or it can be women and the harasser can be of the same sex, be it men to men or women to women. So then, if your boss is a woman and is misbehaving this also is sexual harassment. It doesn't have to be a man. Harassers can be supervisors, they can be colleagues, clients or other people that do not work for the company. For example, a boss is responsible for the acts of other coworkers. So then, let's say that you are working at a workplace, in a warehouse, or something like that, and a male coworker is right next to you and is behaving in an unfit manner. The employer has the obligation to stop this kind of conduct. You have to report it, sure, but also, even though it isn't the boss a colleague can also violate the law. Another important thing is that, it is not necessary that the victim be the direct recipient of the offensive conduct but it can be any person that is affected by the conduct. Like someone that hears a joke or sexual insinuations made by another person close by. So then, let's suppose that you are at the workplace and Juan, Jose or whoever, enters and they are joking with others that are present or they are making problems for a coworker and you are listening. This also affects you and you don't like it. It affects your work. You are unable to do your work. You do not wish to listen to these vulgar things. This is sexual harassment. All of us, it does not matter how one is dressed or walks, by law, all women have the right to work in a place that is free of any offensive sexual conduct that interferes with our work or that impedes us from doing it. This is also very important. If a women wants to wear a pair of pants, that fit however they fit, that is not any reason for which a person should treat her differently, not to respect her, etc.. The law protects us all and we all have the right to work in a place where we are respected. This is very important.
Employees count on the protection of the law if perhaps the employer has at least 15 employees. This is a problem that our laws have, that if there are not 15 employees or more, sometimes, federal laws cannot be implemented on the employer or boss, but there can be other state laws, etc. that can be applied. For that reason, I have other colleagues here from Washington State that can offer advice about what happens when this law is not applied.
The accusations of sexual harassment should be presented to the Equal Employment Commission. Mr. Rudy Hurtado from this office is with us and in a little while will explain how to present a suit if you should find yourself in this situation.
The courts have established that only one incident, including, various isolated incidents where offensive conduct was observed, generally, will not constitute sexual harassment unless the conduct was very serious. So then, it is very important that a woman complain if she is being harassed. Because, if no one complains, what is going to happen is that when another coworker complains-"Well, it was just one time, it hasn't happened more than once." But if in the workplace, we have you, and you, and you, and everybody complains and the boss isn't doing anything, then we have a problem and we can take it to the EEC.
Let's go on with the test now. I will ask the questions and according to what you have heard today you can answer true or false. There will be no punishment for wrong answers. Let's see if you know the answer to this question. Sexual harassment can come in many forms. True? We have learned that today. It includes negative persistent comments and jokes with sexual connotations. That's true, isn't it? Yes. That's true.
It is sexual harassment when a woman considers that a look or a joke is frequent and offensive. What if these jokes or negative comments have not been made by a company boss? According to the law, can it be considered sexual harassment if it is an unwanted act by a colleague? Yes, isn't it? That is sexual harassment.
Now look at question number two. Is sexual harassment on the part of a supervisor illegal? Yes. Isn't it? It is illegal. Sexual harassment by a colleague is not illegal. That's false, isn't it? The answer is false. Sexual harassment can be by colleagues, clients, or any other person that is not an employee of the company. What if sexual harassment occurs only once? Well, that is sexual harassment. But the courts have established that only one incident, like I said before, is not enough. There are times when if it only occurs once, if it's an isolated case and if a person looks at you a certain way, maybe looks at you disrespectfully, we will need more than just that. That's why I was telling you that it is very important that all the coworkers complain, because then it is not going to be just one time. It will be many times. So then, this is very important.
Let's go to question number three. Is it sexual harassment if a supervisor requires an employee to submit to sexual conduct that is non consentual as a condition of employment? That's an easy one. Yes. It is sexual harassment when a condition of employment is linked to the consent of an employee to submit herself to unwanted sexual conduct.
Let's go to question number four. It does not make sense to file a suit for sexual harassment if you do not have witnesses. Think about it. We haven't talked about this. It's false, isn't it. A woman should file a suit at the Equal Employment office. It has been found that sexual conduct frequently happens in private without witnesses being present. The courts realize that a person who is going to harass someone will not do it in front of others, even though there are some that do. But the majority of cases will happen when they are hidden and no one is watching. The courts and everyone realizes that this happens in private. There is no reason for you not to complain. As you can see, in many situations there are no witnesses, so you go and complain, right? Then another coworker says: "You know what? The same happened to me too. And you know what? That happened last year." Another coworker could say: "I heard him. I was walking past where they were standing and I heard what they told my coworker." So, as you can see, there is always the possibility of finding proof. Never stop complaining just because there are no witnesses. Very well then, you knew the answers to many of these questions.
Now I want to speak to you about the Sex Discrimination in Employment Based on Pregnancy Act. This is also a very serious problem in our country. How many of us here in this room are mothers? 99%. Yeah! How many of us have worked while we were pregnant? I'm willing to bet that some of you think that you were treated differently at work because of your condition. Yes or No? Yes! How many thought that you were treated differently because of your condition? Me too! When I had my last child, I was an attorney of law. I had to go to court everyday and I could barely walk. What I thought was very funny is that I think the judges thought that I was going to give birth right there in court. When I would come into court they would start to act scared. They did not want to argue at the same level and things like that. I would say to them: "My God, I'm not incapacitated. You can continue, nothing will happen to me here." But I felt that a pregnant attorney was treated very, very, very differently when they went to court to argue their cases. Maybe you wondered while you were being treated differently, if this treatment is illegal. That is what this type of session can help us find out.
What protects women in this country from discrimination against pregnancy at work? A law that is known as the Sex Discrimination in Employment Based on Pregnancy Act. It was passed by Congress in 1978. It prohibits employers to discriminate because of pregnancy, childbirth, and medical conditions related to pregnancy. The Sex Discrimination in Employment Based on Pregnancy Act applies to all employers in the United States that have at least 15 workers. As we were mentioning earlier, the objective is not to require those employers to provide benefits or special treatment for pregnant workers. Rather, it requires them to treat women who apply for work and who are pregnant the same way as anyone else who applies for work through the hiring process. If a woman is looking for work and is pregnant she is not to be treated differently than another person who is looking for work and is not pregnant. Also, the law requires that pregnant employees, that are already employed, in the same manner as employees who are not pregnant and treat her pregnancy in the same way as other forms of temporary incapacities. The law says that a woman cannot be treated differently than a person, for example, that has a broken foot. For that they are given a leave from work because they had an accident. A pregnant woman has to be given the same treatment. The Secretary of Employment always tells a story about a situation before this law was passed. A man, for example, in this case asks permission to leave work because he is going to have a cosmetic operation, hair implants. So, his employer says: "Yes, you can have however many weeks you need to have the operation and when it's finished you will look really good." But before this Act was established, a pregnant woman, a person that was going to have a child, was terminated from work. We were talking about a man that wanted more hair, very well, that's up to him. But a woman with a much more important condition was treated very differently. That is why these laws are very important. Well, I am going to ask you a question and then we will continue.
This is question number 5. According to the Sex Discrimination in Employment Based on Pregnancy Act, is it prohibited for employers with less than 15 employees to discriminate against women because of pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions relative to pregnancy? Who thinks that 15 workers is the minimum for the law to apply? Yes. That's true. We talked about the fact that there has to be at least 15 employees for this particular law to apply. In other words, who thinks that there needs to be at least 15 employees in a company for the law to protect you? Is that true? We were talking about that. It is one of the limits of the law. Of course.
Question number 6. During an interview, is it legal for an employer to ask if you are thinking about having children? Raise your hands those of you who think that it is legal. The answer is probably no. Because a question cannot be asked of a woman that cannot be asked of a man. If the employer, for example, asks all the employees: "Are you going to have children? Are you going to have children?" Well, maybe in this situation since he asked the men as well, it would be okay. But when he starts treating a woman differently and asks questions of a woman but not of a man, that is not right. It is not legal.
Now for question number 7. Is it illegal for an employer to tell you that you cannot continue with your accustomed duties, those that you do all the time, because of your pregnancy? Is it illegal? Yes. Yes, it is illegal. According to the Sex Discrimination in Employment Based on Pregnancy Act, you have the right to continue with your job while you are capable of doing the essential duties or main duties of the job. If you cannot carry out the duties, you have the right to ask for a modification of your duties to alternative ones. However, if there is not an adequate job available, your employer is not obligated to create a new one for you. In a situation where you perhaps are working at a machine, if you are able to do the work even though you are pregnant, fine. Everything is okay. If the time comes when, let's say, you are unable, for whatever reason-you cannot lifts weight, I don't know what else-you have the right to ask your employer to temporarily modify your job. You will no longer be working at this machine but you will be moved to a different place where you will do another job until your pregnancy ends. But if there is no other job, if this is all the company has, then the employer will not be able to modify your job.
Now the last question. What happens if an employer terminates or suspends a woman because of pregnancy? Would that be legal? It is absolutely illegal. It is illegal to terminate a worker because of pregnancy. If a woman is terminated, what can she do? She can call the Women's Bureau, my office, and we can give you information. There is a 1-800 number where you can call my office or you can also call the Equal Employment Commission so they can help you file a discrimination suit. We have a colleague here that can give you more information about this.
There is just a little time left and I wanted to tell you the following if you believe that you are victims of discrimination because of pregnancy or sexual harassment. Please call us. Our job is to serve you, all women. You deserve the same protections and the same attentions from the federal and state governments, etc.. So call us. As I was telling you, my office, the Women's Bureau, has 10 regional offices throughout the country ready to help you and defend your labor rights. I have already presented this afternoon, the Regional Administrator, Karen Furia. She is in the office that is closest to you and I invite all of you to contact Karen and Manuelita. She speaks Spanish. They are there to assist you and if you wish to express your worries in Spanish, as I said, Manuelita or ..please contact the national office in Washington, D.C.. Remember that the legal resources that I mentioned on this occasion, are there to guarantee that you are treated with dignity and justice at work. I hope that you make use of this information to protect yourselves and your families. Thank you, thank you for listening to me and now let us continue with my colleagues. Thank you.
Irasema: Well, the first person that we have now is Mr. Rodolfo Hurtado. Mr. Hurtado, as I was telling you works with the Commission for Equality in Employment. He has much experience working with our office and before that he worked with the Labor Board known as the National Labor Relations Board. Mr. Hurtado has a lot of very important information for you and for us also. We are very proud to have so many Latinos in this office that can help our communities. Let's welcome Mr. Hurtado.
Rodolfo Hurtado: Reporting Cases of Discrimination
Good afternoon. I work with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also known as the EEOC.. I work in Seattle, the area in which I work is very large. All of the Northwest from Alaska to Idaho, including Oregon and all of the State of Washington. We are the agency where the cases regarding sexual harassment that Irasema spoke about, can be reported. Our agency is a Commission and the president of that Commission is Ida Castro. Ida Castro was also with the U.S. Women's Bureau. She has given us the initiative to go out of our office in Seattle and visit you here in Toppenish, Yakima, Tri-Cities and wherever there may be an interest in the laws that we uphold.
Our agency has four laws that we enforce. The first is Title 7. As you know Title 7-and that's the one we have been speaking of-is a Civil Rights Law from 1964. That law states that a person should not be discriminated against because of color, race, sex, religion, or national origin. There is also another law that says that a person should not be discriminated against because of age. That age is 40 years and up. There is also a law that says that there should be equality in pay. If a woman and a man work at the same place, for the same boss, doing the same thing, having the same education, putting forth the same effort, they should both be paid the same. That is one of the laws that we enforce. Another law is the law that applies to disabled persons. This law prohibits discriminating against the disabled. Those are the four laws.
Now let's speak a little about what a person should do if they are a victim of sexual harassment like Irasema spoke about today. First of all, what should you do? First you must say: "Stop." "Don't do that." "I don't like that." "Please don't do that." If the person stops, then there is no need to continue with the case. But if the person does not stop doing that, you have to take the next step. What should you do then? First, you need to report it to the boss. If it is a supervisor, then you have to go higher up in the company. It's not just a law.
The law has some requirements and those requirements are that every company should have a policy in place where the employer has to state that sexual harassment is not permitted in his place of employment. These policies generally are in writing, but even if they are not in writing, you need to take the first step and report it to the person that is in a higher position to see if the case can be resolved.
After you do that, if it cannot be resolved and if the situation continues then there is the possibility to file a suit. That suit can be made with us or at the Human Rights Commission in Washington State. I believe there is an office in Yakima and also in Olympia. We are a federal agency, the federal commission.
Go to a telephone and dial 1-800-669-4000 and there will be a person there and you can leave a message in Spanish. One of the investigators that is in my office will call you to find out what happened. Simply dial 1-800-669-4000. After I finish my presentation, I will go back to the back where there are some pamphlets and I will give a pamphlet to any and all in attendance and you may call this number free of charge.
We want to know what happened, who touched you, what was said, maybe there was a witness, what did that person say to you, and how did you respond. If possible, you should write down some notes about what happened so that you can have evidence in case it is necessary to go in front of a judge. That makes it very important to document the incidents, writing down notes of what happened, when it happened, where it happened, who else was present, and if no one else was present, what you did at that moment and afterward. Maybe you and the other person were there alone, but after that, you went and spoke to a friend telling them all that happened a few moments earlier. Maybe this can help to present the case.
Having male support-your male friends, have the obligation to support you ladies-because sometimes ladies, you may be afraid. But I can tell you this, there are several men here and all of us support you.. Sometimes it's possible to present a case with a civil suit, sometimes with a federal agency, sometimes with a state agency, but there are laws the protect women in the workplace. That is why we are here with you, "Among Friends."
Well, I guess I'll let some of my friends here speak about other things. Have a good afternoon.
Question and Answer Session
Question: I have a question to ask you.
Irasema: Yes, that is one thing I was going to tell you. We are going to give them an opportunity to ask you questions. So now, the test is going to be for you Rodolfo. There is a question, but we don't have a microphone. Can we get a microphone over here so that everyone can hear?
Rodolfo: Regarding the age. Sometimes there are questions by the employer or the company about your age. Generally, when you first fill out an application it is not illegal to ask your age, but if the employer or the company later uses that information to discriminate against you then it is illegal. There are times that it is necessary to know your age, maybe for insurance or things like that. But if that information is asked of you, it causes a little red flag to go up and makes us think, "Why are they asking you about your age? Maybe the boss will use that as a way to discriminate against you if he knows that you are over 40 years old and no longer wants people of that age or older. But at times there are valid reasons for asking your age.
Question: But how do you know if you fill out an application and it is rejected, how could you know if they rejected it because of your age?
Rodolfo: That would be difficult to know. But sometimes, if you know a person that also goes to that company and applies and is more or less the same age, 40 years or older, and is not hired then you can question, why? They ask me my age, they ask my friend, they ask my godfather and my sister. We are all over 40 years old. So it looks like there is some discrimination because of our age. So then, call me. At what number? 1-800-669-4000. Call me and let me know. We'll see what we can do about it.
Question: How much time do we have to report or file a case about age discrimination or in this case, sexual harassment?
Rodolfo: There are some very important rules to keep in mind. The rule is 300 days. For example, if it occurred today you have 300 days to file the case with us, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Three hundred days, more or less 10 months.
Question: Possibly many of us prefer to remain anonymous in cases like this. When you explained to us the process of accusing someone of sexual harassment and you file a suit before a judge, do we have to be physically present or are documents presented to a judge? Apart from having to ask someone to defend us, there is the embarrassment of having others recognize you. What is the process now that a woman has to go through if she accuses someone or files a suit against someone?
Rodolfo: The question regarding if someone is embarrassed and does not want to step forward, how much can their identity be protected? Generally, people that are harassed are those that go and file a suit. That suit will include certain information. That information includes the name of the person that is making the case. A copy of that suit will be sent to the company because the company has to have the opportunity to defend itself or to say what they saw. At that point, we will say we think that there has been a violation of the law regarding sexual harassment and this person has said this. What do you say employer? What do you say supervisor? What do you say worker? What are the details of the suit? Generally, it will not be possible to keep your name confidential.
Rodolfo: Well, we have attorney in our office that represents people free of charge. We are federal agents. To do that we will have to present, maybe documents but also witnesses. Of those witnesses, the first one will be the person that experienced the sexual harassment. That person generally will serve as their own witness, but others will support her.
Iresema: I wanted to make a suggestion before you ask your question. Let's place the microphone back here, then our friends that want to ask questions can go there so that we don't trip on this thing. Before you begin, I would like to clear up something. First, I think your question has to do with the day of trial when you have to go to court and present your complaint as the victim. If you are asking if a person has to physically go to court, then the answer is, yes. The law in general also protects the person who is being accused. For example, let's turn the situation around. A person accuses you of sexual harassment, let's say another woman. You would like to know who the person is that is accusing you. You don't want to think of it as being a ghost or something that just appeared. The law recognizes this and that is why in almost every occasion the accuser has to show up in court. I think the advice that I would give a woman is first, it is very important as I said before, that two or three or four women complain so that all of us can go together and it would be less difficult to do so. It is not an easy thing for a woman to face the court and do these things, but it is a very important thing to do. So then, what do we have to do? We should look for support from our "sisters." Look for organizations that are dedicated to women so you can find support. All of this is very important when a woman needs to follow through with a complaint. I think that this is very important that you realize that not everyone will be able to help you with your feelings. But I think it is very important.
Another thing I would like to clear up that our colleague was mentioning is about the federal laws. Laura is here with us from Washington State, because they have other protections that perhaps are better under state laws. For example, the 300 days which was mentioned, this is only under federal law but really, she was telling me that you have up to three years under state laws to go and file a private complaint because the complaints of which he was referring to is a case where the federal government goes in and supports you. You don't have your own attorney, they represent you in court. It is a case where the federal government is backing you. If you wish to file a private complaint and go to a specific attorney, then you have three years. Laura is going to speak about these state rights. Let's continue with the questions.
Question: I really don't have a question, but what I would like to emphasize, and I believe that this is very important in answering your question, is that the person that experienced the harassment should not feel ashamed. If anyone should feel ashamed it should be the person that harassed you.
Rodolfo: Very well spoken.
Irasema: I have been informed that State Representative James Clements is here from this area. He has come here to listen to our workshop. Welcome. Nice to meet you and thank you for being here. Thank you very much. It is a beautiful state. My first time here in Yakima and it's absolutely gorgeous. So thank you for having me.
Question: There is a person here that wanted to know what are the procedures, perhaps this will be helpful to other people too. The problem of this person is, a working woman who is employed. This person was removed from their position so that another could have the position. This person was earning a certain amount of money and was going to get a cut in pay so that this other person, who was a relative of the boss, could have the position. She wishes to know what the procedures are for this case. For example, what number should she call or who should she contact? Also, if it is legal or not. I would like to ask that the audience not be bashful about asking their questions, it is really easy.
Rodolfo: Perhaps one of my colleagues could give us some information about that. At first glance, I don't think that it is sexual harassment. Perhaps it would be favoritism, but not discrimination exactly.
Irasema: There is another case of a person that experienced sexual harassment but it wasn't by a manager or owner of a company, instead it was someone under him at the same level as this person. This woman did not have the support of the manager, she did not have the support of the owner of the company and the person was terminated. What procedure should this person take in a given situation, not only to file a suit against the harasser but also against the owner of the company, right? It is not only the embarrassment but also the fear of having to face them and have them discharge you from the company.
Rodolfo: I didn't hear all of the discussion.
Irasema: This is a case where a person that experienced sexual harassment by a supervisor but this person upon filing a suit against the harasser, the one who assaulted her, did not have the support of the company. The opposite occurred and the person was discharged. So what is the procedure that she should follow upon being discharged, to file a suit not only against the aggressor but also against the owner?
Rodolfo: Yes, when the person, as I said, complains to a person higher than the supervisor or manager that had harassed this person, then these types of cases are of interest to investigate, because this type of case is worse than the first type of case. When a person takes the steps outlined by the company and then, because of following these steps they are punished and discharged from their job, then it seems to me that this is the type of case that we must investigate. Call me at 1-800-669-4000.
Question: And the telephone number can't have a name like 1-800-ACÚSALO (ACCUSE HIM/HER) or something like that so it would be easier?
Rodolfo: Do you have another question? I am going to continue with my colleagues.
Question: I have a question. It is related to pregnancy. This person has worked for seven years with this company and for the last three was working as an assistant manager and when she informed them that she was pregnant. Just a few weeks later, they told her that she could no longer be manager and was going to be demoted to assistant manager and besides that, they were going to take away her medical insurance benefits. The person in this particular case, was three months pregnant and she had medical insurance. Now she is having problems, not just because of the lost income that a court case causes, but she is also having problems in getting medical coupons now that she doesn't get medical services provided through her employment.
Rodolfo: At first glance, it would seem to me that it is a case that we should follow. If this person hasn't filed a complaint yet they should do so as soon as possible.
Question: At 1-800-ACÚSALO?
Rodolfo: Thank you all.
Question: My question is, is this a telephone number or an agency that can also help young people that are under age? I think that when we file these claims, because we are working we tend to think "adults." But I think that there are acts of sexual harassment in situations where a young person is just starting a job, for training etc., and they are victims as well. Can they take steps on their own to do this or do they do they have to be represented by their parents or someone else?
Rodolfo: Well, as we have said before, the law covers everyone be it man or woman. It can be sexual harassment men against men or women against women, men against women or any combination. When these cases happen, we should investigate them if the person is interested in following up on them.
Question: But my question is about age. For example someone who is 14, 15 or 16 years of age who is just starting out-be it though the school, or a program or just a young individual on their own-do they have to be represented if they experience sexual harassment or can a young person call themselves and start the process after they have reported it to, for example, an employer? Because that is the first step, isn't it?
Rodolfo: It seems to me that we have had some cases where some young women about 16 or 18 years of age that have worked, it seems to me, at McDonalds. There was a recent case where, how do you say "settled" in Spanish? This case was settled and it seems to me that several situations where young people work, generally in restaurants, that they are covered by the law.
Question: But do they have to be represented by their parents or can they go themselves and say: "I am a victim?" I imagine it could be too because they are working.
Rodolfo: That I don't know. Perhaps the attorney can help here. A person that is under 14 or 16 years of age, do they have to be represented by their parents or can the person file a complaint even though they are 14 years of age? Generally, maybe we would want to use the mother or father or the person in charge of the minor, then the parents would be the ones to speak for the youth.
Question in English from panelist: Does the EEOC recognize minors when you're putting complaints forward, I mean, what do you do if a 16 year old comes to you?
Rodolfo: I don't know that.
Question in English from panelist: Okay. So that's something that maybe they have to call.
Rodolfo: It seems to me that they would be covered by law. Who would represent them is a question I don't know, but we could find out. And call me. You know my number huh? 1-800-669-4000.
Irasema: Well, I know all of you have many questions and all, but what I would like is for my colleagues to speak now because I know they are going to give you information then the whole panel can answer questions. My colleagues are telling me that they have answers to your questions but they have not had the opportunity to present their information and what's more, we have a "sister" whose name is Diana Guzmán. Diana you are with the Human Rights Commission in Washington State and your office is in Yakima.
Diana Guzmán: (Inaudible)
Irasema: This is very important. Why don't we do this Diana. I wanted to identify you. We will continue with them or come on up to the microphone and answer these questions. Even though you are not part of the program, I believe you have some very important information. It is local information.
Diana Guzmán: I don't know if you were able to hear me before, but youths of 18 years of age or younger than 18 years old can file a complaint, but we have to have it under their parent's name. Parents have to sign the complaint and we do the investigating.
Question: But for minor children that are here illegally and don't have their parents here... (inaudible).
Diana Guzmán: That is a very good question. What happens is that we provide the service to the person even though they are not from here and are undocumented. This part of the question is very important. Many people come here that are undocumented, but especially the women are the ones that suffer under circumstances of sexual harassment, isn't that true? If it is the case that they are not with their parents, talk to us and we will see what we can do. There are ways. Even though they just have the person who is caring for them that is older than 18 years of age. We will try.
Just briefly about embarrassment, because Laura is going to speak to this and I know we have gone overtime. The person that should feel embarrassed is the person that is doing what they are doing. But it also causes shame because what they are doing affects the victim. The thing is that when we... you don't have to go before a judge.
First, upon filing a complaint we do an investigation. That means we are going to talk to your witnesses. Your witnesses are the ones that are going to confirm, that are going to present evidence that there was discrimination. Upon getting the evidence we go speak to the company and we are going to tell them: "Look, we have this evidence. How can we resolve this situation?" If it be that you have lost your job, then we can ask that they give you payment for the money that you would have earned. There are many ways that this can be resolved. For example, monetary damages for having lost your job. Damages for what happened, if you needed to go to a counselor. All of this we can resolve before you have to go to court. You do not have to go before a judge. Since the majority of complaints that we receive are work related and are where these things happen, a person files a complaint and comes to us. We do an investigation, find evidence that there has been discrimination and try to resolve it. There are people that file a complaint that are discharged or demoted if they were in a higher position, because they filed a complaint. Also, in these circumstances we can accept the complaint.
There are also ways to protect yourself. Many times, when it has to do with a man and a woman, the man that is doing these things is going to hide. Many times they will not do it in front of other people or else they think that if they do it in front of other men, the men will not be witnesses for a woman. They will take care of each other. The best thing that you can do in these circumstances when this starts happening is to tell your friends: "I am having a problem. Can you keep your eyes open and watch what is going on? I don't know if I'm mistaken or not, but it seems to me that it's wrong." If they can watch what is going on, then you are protecting yourselves. Later it will help you because when the investigator speaks to that person they can be a witness.
The company does not want to have these problems because it can cost a lot of money. It is against the federal and state laws that we enforce. They also want to resolve these situations. Also, when you file a complaint they will not only reimburse you for damages, but also, we can ask that they give training to these people.
Irasema: Ms. Guzmán, I believe that you have some very important information and I think it important that you should share your telephone number, your address, etc.. She is here locally and she can offer information about many of the protections on state and local levels. I will give her the opportunity to do that. Also, since we are going to take a moment, I wanted to tell you that there are organizations here with information for different organizations, rights, social security, housing, etc.. Please take advantage of this information. Now for 60 seconds everyone can get up and stretch. We won't let you leave because all of this is very interesting here. Everyone stretch a little.
(Tape was not turned on. First part of this speech was not taped.)
Lupe Rivera: ..., whether it be every week or every two weeks that you are paid, but it should not be later than two weeks. Every time that a check is made out you must receive a receipt that tells you how much you earned for the hours worked and the deductions that were taken out of your pay. There has to be an explanation. You have to know why they took so many deductions from your pay. If you are offered transportation, then the vehicles have to have adequate insurance, they have to have passed inspections and be driven by licensed drivers. If you are supplied with housing or rooming, you have to receive expense reports in writing. For example, I will be charged so much in rent each month or each week. I will be charged for electricity, for water. Things like that. Also the rental terms must be in writing and be placed visibly where you can have the opportunity to see them. The other law is the Fair Labor Standards Act. Workers that are covered under this law have the right to receive minimum wage, which is $5.15. Right now the state minimum wage is higher than the federal minimum wage. Overtime pay does not apply in agriculture, unless you work in a warehouse. The boss not only brings his own products to the warehouse but also is packing products for other growers so it is not just the growers products. When he decides to pack other growers products, then it is no longer considered agriculture. At that time if you are working in excess of 40 hours per week, then you should be paid time and a half at your regular wage. There are exceptions where some workers are excluded from minimum wage. If this worker is a farm laborer, these are local jobs. In other words, they are not paid minimum wage if: they go home after each day of work and if they have worked less than 13 weeks in agriculture the preceding year, if they are migrant workers 16 years of age or less, if they work at the same ranch as their parents and receive the same pay for piece work as other workers are paid that are older than 16 years of age.
The law also talks about the employment of minors. An employee can work in agriculture, in any job at age 16. Youths of 14 years of age can work outside of school hours in jobs that are not declared to be dangerous by the Secretary of Employment. Minors of ages 12 and 13 can also work outside of school hours with parents consent. The consent must be in writing or if not, the worker, the youth, has to be working at the same ranch where the parents work. Minors less than 12 years of age can work with parents written consent outside of school hours in ranches that are not subject to federal law.
There are times when both federal and state laws apply to workers. When there is a conflict between the two, then the law that offers the most protection to the worker is the one that applies. For example, federal minimum wage right now is $5.15 an hour. State minimum wage is $6.50. The employer would have to pay $6.50. Forget the $5.15.
The boss needs to keep documents about the workers personal information. For example, name, address, sex, occupation and their birth date, if the person is less than 19 years old. He has to comply by keeping information about the time and the day in which the worker's week starts. He has to keep track of the total hours worked, total earnings, type of pay if it is hourly or piece rate and deductions. He has to show, for example, like I said earlier, he has to show why this money was deducted, the earnings and also the date when the money was paid and the pay period covered.
It has been said that knowledge is power, but along with it comes responsibility. When you have information-I believe that it was Ms. Garza who said this-when you know something you don't simply keep it to yourself. You must share this information not only with your families but also with your neighbors, with other workers, so that they too will know what protections they have under the law. Like Ms. Garza said, the Federal Department of Labor does not care if workers are documented or not. The law protects everyone. Is there a question? Thank you very much.
Irasema: This office is very, very important to our community. I just wanted to make an observation. I do not know if all of you know this but all the people that have made presentations are from Texas. She is from El Paso and the next panelist also is originally from Texas. She tells me that she is from Falfurrias and her parents came here to work. Her name is Nelda Gastelum. She works for the Department of Labor on a state level. She is an investigator and has worked a long time in that position. She lives here and has been in this position since 1985. Her family also immigrated to this state from Texas and she has some very important information for you.
Nelda Gastelum: Health and Safety-Workman's Compensation
Thank you very much. I have not had a voice for three days now so let's see if I can make it though. First, I would like to thank this group of friends that have invited me here today to speak to you a little about the Department of Labor and Industries. This will be my last opportunity to bring you information because in September, thanks to God, I am going to retire after 30 years. Also, I want to introduce my colleagues that came with me and that work in the Department. They are at the back of the room. Mr. Dale Sunday who is an employer consultant and Mr. Esteban Zambrano Jr.. Esteban works with the Division of Employment Regulations. He is an agent that helps our office a lot with the employee complaints that are filed. Many people do not know that the Department of Labor and Industry is a state agency. We are an insurance company. That is what we are.
There are many programs that are here to help and protect workers in Washington State. I am only going to mention the three most important programs that we have. The first is industrial insurance. This insurance is for protecting injured workers. Many people do not know even now, that there is insurance to help them when they have an accident at work. The second program that we have is the Division of Health and Safety in the workplace. This Division is there to protect workers, to help them and be sure that they have a healthy place in which to work safely. The third Division is, as I mentioned, where Estaban works. The Division of Employment Regulations is here also to help you so that you are paid the wages that you should be paid and to see to it that you are not being taken advantage of. These are the three main programs that we have.
I am going to speak a little about the Division where I work. As Irasema mentioned earlier, I was an investigator and manager but now I am a supervisor of the Claims Management Unit and we manage claims for injured workers. This insurance in years past, would not allow you to file a claim unless you had earned $150.00. Now, the insurance program covers you from the minute you start working. It is very important that workers know that this insurance exists. Many times bosses tell the workers that it is not necessary to file a claim, that they will pay the expenses of the accident if you need to go to the hospital. The law says that a worker cannot say that they will not file a claim. This right cannot be lost. This is something important.
One of the things that Labor and Industry has tried to do in the last six to seven years is to educate the community. If more of you are informed about your rights and the program that are here to help you, more will receive benefits. As a Latina woman, it gives me great pleasure to see so many women here because in years past when I worked in the field there were no laws to protect us. For example, now there are bathrooms in the field. Before you were given a roll of paper and they told you: "There's a tree, go to it." Before, there was no washing your hands before eating a taco, because we did not know what pesticides could do to us. It was just, run to the car, eat a taco and let's go. Now it is very different. I have seen a lot of changes, but even when there are laws, many workers are afraid to ask for those rights and it will be the employers that enforce these laws.
Another thing is that many times you get very frustrated when you have to deal with a state agency. You do not understand the processes, you do not understand the forms, you do not understand or know where to go or what to do. I am going to encourage you and tell you that it is very important that when you come to our agency if you do not understand what the person is telling you, ask to speak to someone else. You deserve the right to be treated with respect and dignity. You also pay for the cost of this insurance. It is paid for by the worker and the employer so you have the right to receive these benefits. I tell you that our administrator in this region wants all of you to receive service with dignity and respect. If one of our workers does not give you that type of service, I want you to complain to a supervisor. And if you do not understand what we are trying to explain to you, tell them that you wish to speak to another person. Many times a Latino goes to an agency and they try to explain things to you and you say you understand when in reality you do not understand. Many times it causes you embarrassment to go back and ask for the same information. I will tell you right now that in all the years that I have worked with the State to try and educate the community about these programs this is something you need to do. Rights exist, laws exist and you should use them. You should not be fearful that they will discharge you from work if you have an accident because there is a discrimination law that is there to protect you. It is true that the processes are very long and many times it is said: "Well, they are not going to help me after all." But if you decide not to file your claims or if you decide not to claim these benefits and your rights, nothing is ever going to change. Even now when there are laws that protect you, workers are taken advantage of. Therefore, it is very important that you when you are receiving information in this type of meeting-since you are the one receiving the information-to go out to the community and let the rest of your coworkers, family and friends know about it.
The other thing is that in all of our regional offices we have bilingual people that speak Spanish. When I first came in 1985 there were only two people that spoke Spanish. Now we have over forty. This is a very important movement because our agency sees the community that it serves. So it is very important that we bring you these services in the language that you understand. You have that right and deserve to receive that type of service.
I don't want to take up much time because I know that we are running out but I want to encourage you to ask questions and I will be there until September. I have my cards here. Esteban has also worked with me in the Claims Division and now with the Division of Employment Regulations. It is very important that if you have questions to call us. Mr. Dale works with the employers because not only do the workers have a responsibility in this process but also the employers. In Washington State they also have the responsibility to follow the law. Everyone has a part in these processes.
As I said, it is very important to continue educating yourselves. Continue educating your children because now we have minors that start working and they do not know that this insurance exists. There are many who work at McDonalds or elsewhere and they get burned. They do not know what to do. They think that their parents will have to pay the expenses. That's not true. The law is here to protect. Our agency has tried to go to the High Schools, to the secondary schools, to try and educate those who are going to graduate so that they will know that it is here to help them and to know what benefits they have.
With this, I would like to tell you that I will be here when we finish if you have any questions please ask me. I would also like to thank radio station KDNA because during the last six years they have supported the Department of Labor and Industries by inviting us to have a monthly educational program for you. Thank you.
Irasema: Thank you Nelda. She has brought us very important information. It will also be important for the community, Nelda, that when you go on vacation or retire so that you can do all the things you want to do, it is very important that you leave a person in charge that you think will be able to take care of our community so that they have someone they can refer to. So thank you very much for this information.
Lastly we have Laura Contreras. She is an attorney with a legal service here in this area called Columbia Legal Services. She has a very important position and she will be giving you, first of all, information about how to look for an attorney when you do not have the necessary resources to look for an attorney or where you can go Also she has a legal education and can answer your questions about employment. There is another thing that Laura does that is quite important. I would like her to take just a few minutes to speak about women farmworkers who are victims of domestic violence. It is a very serious situation for all women in this country but we have to be worried for our fellow neighbors in the Latino community because our "sisters" suffer quietly because of embarrassment, etc.. It is a crime and it is a very important matter.
It is a pleasure for me to present to you Laura Contreras. After she finishes speaking we have a few minutes for questions and also, when the session ends you can speak with the panelists. Okay?
Laura Contreras: Local Organization and Legal Assistance
Thank you. Good afternoon to all of you. First, I would like to thank two people who are here today. These two people helped me a lot since I was little. They were role models for me to show that the Hispanic woman can be strong. I wish to present my mother Noemí Sánchez and my aunt Cuca Botello who helped me a lot to get where I am.
First, I would like to speak about the embarrassment that the other ladies mentioned. Embarrassment is something very strong and very serious. It is a great obstacle for women who have been victims of domestic violence and also for those who have been victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.
There has been a study done in California on women farmworkers. The results were that women farmworkers are the women who are subjected to more harassment than women in other areas of work. Of the people surveyed, 59% of the women said that they had been sexually harassed at work. Of this 59%, 98% of the women said that this was a big problem. Not a small problem. A big problem. The sad thing that I see in this study, is that only 10% of the women reported. Only 10%. I have worked with legal services for 10 years and I have had only three cases of sexual harassment. I have colleagues that have been working for 18 years and have not had one case of sexual harassment. You also met Diana Guzmán from the Human Rights Commission of Washington State. She shared with me that last year only four cases involving Latina women reported cases of sexual harassment. Why? Why are they not reporting those cases?
There are many barriers that women that work in the fields have. Women farmworkers who are also victims of domestic violence face these same barriers.
I just wanted to mention a few of the many barriers because I want you to think about this if you see someone at work that is being victimized. Do not judge them. Don't ever think: "Oh, she likes it," or "She's bringing it on herself." Instead of judging, talk to her. Say: "What's happening? If you would like I will go with you to speak to the foreman. I'll go with you and talk to the boss." It's easy to break down only one person. Embarrassment is enough to do that, but with two or three friends along it makes it easier to bear. So I am encouraging you to show your support. Do not leave her by herself.
I would like to speak a little about your right to private action. We have heard today about some agencies where you can go and report a violation of your rights. It's possible, and don't take this wrong, but it is possible that these agencies might say: "We're sorry, but there is insufficient proof. We cannot accept your case." That's a possibility. You have the right to bring a personal or private case to court. The most important thing to remember if you are going to bring your own case to court is that you have to do so within three years of when the incident occurred. Three years sounds like a long time, but don't let those three years go by. It's important to present it as soon as possible because the evidence can get old. Witnesses might not remember anything, they could die or move away. You don't know what could happen. So, it's important that you do it as soon as you can. How do you present a legal suit?
First, you have to file some papers in court where you present the facts, place the claim, list the laws that were violated and you tell the court what you want. In this type of case, what you want is your job back, money for time lost, damages for mental anguish and one thing I always ask for in my cases is my fees, my attorney fees for presenting your case.
After you file a suit in court, there is a discovery period. This discovery period is the time when we have to add up all the facts, all the testimony of those that know anything about this case. During this time it will be the victims opportunity, the woman, to confront for the first time her foreman or her boss. It's not going to be at the trial, it will be during the discovery. There will be depositions where attorneys will want to speak to the foreman to find out what he wants to say about what happened as well as with the boss and also with the victim. After all the information is gathered, after you speak with all these people, you've given them interrogatories and they have answered them, the time comes for a decision. Now, am I going to go on to trial or is there more I can do to try to settle this?
There are some vehicles that we have in the law that helps us to try and settle a case without having to go to trial. We are always thinking of that so we don't have to take that step. During this time and even before a suit has been filed you will be speaking with the boss or the boss's attorney to try and reach a settlement. Before I file a suit, I always send a letter to the boss telling him: "Look, this is what I have. 1...2...3...4... This is what we are going to claim. Do you want to reach a settlement without having to go to court? Then give us X amount of money." So we are always thinking about trying to settle without having to go to court because we know that is difficult.
We know that it is costly, expensive, to go to trial. If you go to trial, you have to go in front of a judge or jury. They will listen to the evidence, then the judge or jury will have to decide who they are going to believe. There are very few cases that reach this level. Not all cases go to trial. I have not gone to trial in an employment case. So these types of cases do settle.
I know that all of you are thinking that attorneys charge a fee. How are we going to find an attorney that will go to court with us? In Washington State there is an organization that is working very hard to offer attorneys that will help people with low income enforce their civil rights so that these people can have access to the justice system. It is not fair that only the rich have the money to claim their rights. People with low income should also have the same right to enforce their rights. There are several things that you can do to find an attorney that does not charge a fee.
There are few resources for everyone that has civil legal problems. Our office has only six attorneys and we work in Yakima, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, Klickitat, and Kittitas counties. Those are a lot of counties for only six attorneys. That's why we have priorities. We try to take the cases in the community that need the most help. For example, employment cases for farmworkers. I handle a few employment cases, but at present my focus is on family cases to help women that are victims in custody cases, for example. There is also an attorney that handles housing cases, one attorney that helps the elderly and another attorney that helps with public assistance cases. So, there is a way for you to find someone that could help represent you in your civil case. If we are not able to, we often try to encourage private attorneys to accept one of these cases and at times we have succeeded. But I will tell you that the telephone lines are very busy. Keep trying and if you can't get through, call our office and tell us that you cannot get through to the CLEAR telephone line or that you cannot reach Laura and our office staff will help facilitate that.
In conclusion, like Ms. Garza said, we need to support one another if we see an injustice occurring against a coworker. It's easy to say: "It's her problem, let her fix her own problem," and we could wash our hands of the matter and go merrily on our way. It takes a lot of courage and self-respect to say: "I am going to go and stand by her. I will go with her and speak to the boss or the foreman and tell them what they are doing to her is wrong." In Washington State, if two people go together and speak to a boss or foreman to try and better the working conditions and those two people are fired, they might have a claim for joining together to try and better their working conditions. So I say to you, don't give in. Continue forward.
Any questions? The ladies in back, wave. They have the telephone numbers for CLEAR, Columbia Legal Services and Northwest Justice Project.
Question and Answer Session
Irasema: Thank you very much Laura. Laura does a good job, a very important job for the community. Now we have a few minutes to ask some questions if you have any. Where is the microphone?
Question: Ms. Garza said that your legal status does not matter, whether you have documents or not. I want to know if Labor and Industries, or if Columbia Legal Services help people whether they have documents or not. Suppose that we are working and have documents-whether they are genuine or falsified-when we go to see you, I want to know, will you help or not?
Nelda: A person's legal status is not considered by the Department of Labor and Industries. If you are working in Washington State you are covered by the Industrial Insurance that we have. We don't have anything to do with whether you are here legally or not. The only thing that needs to be proven is that you were paid a wage for some type of job.
Question: So if that's the case, why is it that two of my coworkers and I have been fighting with Labor and Industries and they refuse to help us? They do not have documents, but they do have a job.
Nelda: The only time that we cannot help is when a person enters a vocational program to try and get the worker a different type of job. If they don't have documents we cannot legally put them to work because that is against the law. But we can get training for them, we can give them all of the other services and they can receive their rights to time loss if they cannot return to work. Their status does not matter. So if those two workers would like to call me, I will give them my card and it will be my pleasure to see what is going on in their case.
Certainly. Thank you very much.
Laura: Columbia Legal Services represents people whether they have documents or not. We do ask a person if they are documented just because we have separate funds to represent those people. We need to know which funds we are to use. Northwest Justice Project does have a requirement and cannot represent undocumented persons. But we are in constant communication with that project so that we can refer cases back and forth.
Okay. Thank you very much. You're very kind.
Irasema: But let's make a distinction here. What she has been saying about those services is for private programs, but what we learned here is that the federal and state laws protect you whether you are documented or undocumented. Okay? Federal laws do protect everyone whether they have documents or not. Okay? This is very important.
Question: I have a question for Ms. Garza. This is regarding Labor and Industries. I have a case from 10 years ago. After the second year they performed surgery and then later they followed up with my right hand. Now, after ten years they only paid for half of one of the surgeries and they paid for medical services but the rest I have had to pay and until now my case has been stopped and it is tabled. By this time, I have consulted almost every doctor in Yakima and no doctor wants to help me because they say that Labor and Industries has said that my case has no remedy.
Nelda: It is very difficult to answer your question without having had the opportunity to investigate. I would like to give you my card so that you can call me on Wednesday. I'll be in my office. We have a toll free number in Yakima if you would like to call me. When there are medical expenses related to an injury the insurance covers those costs. Maybe it is a condition that is not excepted. In those cases they are not paid. But if you call me I would be glad to investigate your case and I will try to see what is happening. Many times they do not move if you do not have an attorney. Do you have an attorney?
Yes. I have an attorney.
Nelda: Many times there is that problem, they take time. But call me if there is anymore delay. Here is my card. Please call me.
Irasema: Those of you that have questions, being as we have such limited time and because I have a flight to catch-it seems like I'm always flying from one city to another-I would like to ask that if you have a personal problem you now know who the people are that can help you. Another thing I wanted to repeat is that there is a sheet of paper in your folders that we gave you that has the telephone numbers of all the agencies and the names of the people that are here. Please use them. If you have a question of a general nature then step up to the microphone. But for personal questions, please take advantage of the people that are here and speak to them after the workshop has ended.
Question: I do not have a personal problem even though I look like I'm injured. (Laughter) So nothing related to Labor and Industries. Frequently, I am faced with the manner in which Labor and Industries manages it's patients. I am a doctor and frequently treat Labor and Industry patients and I face great frustration in that the system does not solve a person's problems. On the one hand, if a person has a medical problem, the legal questions always causes a great delay in finding medical solutions and being able to advance the case. On the other hand, when the case is "fixed and stable," as is determined by Labor and Industries, this means no more studies or no new treatment. After that the cases are closed, but the truth is, that does not mean that the patient is cured or rehabilitated for work. For me, it's a system, yes. That is the way it is, but I see a lot of deficiencies. I am glad the patient spoke about this case that lasted 10 years before I spoke, because that's how it happens. The patient is not recuperating, but Labor and Industries says "fixed and stable" and I have nothing more to do with you and that's it. On the other hand, it's very frustrating for me that patients that are covered by Labor and Industries are only partially covered because they only attend to the injured member. The patient loses his job, therefore, loses his medical insurance because he is generally unable to work.
(Lapse in recording while switching tapes)
Irasema: ...because my schedule is a very difficult one for me. From here I go to San Diego, from San Diego I go to San Francisco then I go to Albuquerque. I have a schedule that we have planned in advance and unfortunately, everyone has to work with that schedule. It wasn't planned intentionally. To me it's more important to speak to women, so I ask your forgiveness for that. But I am almost positive that it was because I was not able to be here next week.
Question: Do you think that within a year we could have another conference and could the schedule be for "next week" of the following year? For those of us that make it that far.
Irasema: Certainly. One of the things that I am trying to do is to take these workshops throughout the country. This is a small part of my job, but it is the part that is very, very important to me working with Latina women. What I am trying to do is introduce this concept of legal training for women. Certainly it is something that can be. Hopefully, these local state organizations can continue this type of education for women because it is very important. It is very noticeable here because of the fine attention that you have given us. Thank you very much.
Thank you for your explanation.
Question: Good afternoon. I don't have a question. I have a petition for you Irasema. When you spoke about the law that protects pregnant women, that is a law against discrimination, correct? I have observed for many years that when pregnant women have to leave work to have their baby they have no coverage. No unemployment. I am personally not going to have any more children nor have I had them here. But I have noticed that sometimes even single women or women whose husbands have low income when they leave their jobs for six to eight weeks to give birth, instead of any benefits, on the contrary, they have more expenses in their household without any right to unemployment. Since you are a voice for women in Congress and before the President, this is what I would like to ask you Irasema; I would like women to go home to give birth knowing that they can count on unemployment benefits, because benefits from Labor and Industries are not a possibility, being as it was not an industrial accident that caused them to leave. Even though I know it takes many years to pass a law, we should never say never.
Irasema: Thank you very much for bring up that subject. That is a very important question for working women. When President Clinton entered Congress that was the first law that he gave us. This was the law for family leave. Before that there was no protection. A woman would leave to have her baby and she would have no guarantee of continuing her job or of returning to her job. Also, when someone adopts a child or when there is a medical situation, the President passed a law that gives us protection for 12 weeks out of a year. This is covered under the Division of Wage and Hour. I believe that our friend from Wage and Hour had to leave. Is there anyone here from Wage and Hour? Oh yeah, here he is. Then he can give us information about this law in particular. One thing we have not been able to pass in Congress regarding this law is our economic benefits. There are many people that, even though they have this protection for 12 weeks, cannot leave their job for that period of time because they really don't have financial resources to stay at home with their baby. That's a big problem.
President Clinton and Secretary of Labor, Alexis Herman, have passed legislation and a resolution where they are permitting individual states, for example, this State of Washington to use their unemployment insurance in situations where a woman has a child. It's a big problem. Something that we are trying to get the individual states to do and that is to give benefits to women. I really think that this is something that should happen.
Almost half of the workforce today is composed of women. Did you know that? Of that amount the Latinas are the ones that are growing in number most rapidly. There is a demand for more workers. Therefore, we as women also have the obligation to demand those benefits through our employment. For that reason, I feel that this is something that should happen. If, only due to the number of women that exist today in the workforce. Thank you very much for your comment.
Thank you. You are very kind.
Irasema: Well I believe that this is the last question. Then I will let you ask your own personal questions.
Question: Good afternoon. My name is Ana Guzmán. I congratulate all of the women and all of the people that have organized such a nice meeting. It is beneficial for us to attend this type of meetings. Wouldn't you say? Training workshops where we can learn about our human rights and our rights as farmworkers.
But my question is to the Department of Labor and Industries and to the Department of Labor because they give us workers very little credit. We know those laws exist but when will they start to apply and enforce those laws the way they are supposed to?
Before answering my question, if you would please give me a second so that I may announce a march that is very important for us here in the community of Yakima Valley. We are going to have a march for amnesty and the right to organize. When? Sunday, August 6, 2000. Where? The park in Mattawa, Washington. Time? 11:00 AM.
Religious services will start at 10:30 AM. At our last march, 5000 people participated requiring a new amnesty in California and throughout the country. Forums, marches, and other actions in support of this new amnesty program are being held. Our rights to organize and collective bargaining is not respected in the State of Washington. This has resulted in low wages, high percentage of accidents and poor working conditions. Join the march in Mattawa to demand amnesty and to say, "NO" to wage ceilings, to the larger plastic bins and "YES" to our right to organize. While we are not organized we will not be respected as workers. Everyone is invited to this meeting. Thank you.
Question: Good afternoon. I just wanted to make this comment. My name is Juanita Ramírez. I would like to give my sincere thanks to you that have come here to represent your agencies. I work with the Department of Employment and I have learned new things that I did not know before that are available to the participants. But I know that Ninfa can organize another conference another day so that more information can be brought to these women that need to know what services are in their community and in the State. Thank you very much.
Irasema Garza: Closing Remarks
Thank you. And now in conclusion I would like to thank everyone. This has been an honor and a pleasure to be here this afternoon sharing with you this important information. Again, I would like to give my sincere thanks to Ms. Ninfa Gutierrez who did so much in organizing this event and to bring us all together here. Thank you panelists. I believe you did a very good job. I will continue these workshops throughout the country. I am very glad that this is part of my mission and I understand that things are not perfect, but I want to assure you that people such as myself and the Secretary of Labor and the Administration will continue fighting for Latina women's rights. I am a Latina, I have a Latina mother, Latina sisters, Latina daughters, so you see it is more than a job to me. It is something personal. It is very important that we support one another so that we can strive forward.
I want to remind you that there is an evaluation form in your folders and I ask that you help us by filling in your comments. If you think that these conferences, these workshops are important, let us know. Also, please let us know any suggestions on how we can better them. Thank you very much and may God bless you.