Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Full Employment Is More Than Possible. It Is Essential.

September 19th, 2014 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonProgressives have not only been able to beat back the D.C.-elite effort to cut Social Security, we put the idea of expanding Social Security on the table instead. We pushed LGBT rights and gay marriage and have won significant victories. Sunday’s Climate March will force climate onto the map.

We got the discussion of income inequality going. We have achieved minimum wage increases and paid sick days in several cities and states. The National Labor Relations Board is functioning and we even saw labor-movement gains in the South this week. We have held back (so far) the drumbeat for big cuts in corporate taxes they’re calling “tax reform.”

Now it’s time to put our demand for full employment policies on the table. And guess what – it’s a great way to win elections!

What would it mean in people’s lives if there were more job openings than people? Right now people suffer terrible job fear that forces them to accept pay cuts, benefit cuts, extra hours and other things that increase profits for the giant corporations.

Think about the huge change in the mood and structure of the country if employers had to fight to get employees. If your boss couldn’t find the people needed to do the work and knew that you had three job offers, you might be getting a raise instead of a pay cut – and you would know that, too.

It has been a while, but imagine the situation in our economy if working people had the upper hand. This is what full employment would mean. And it is possible to achieve full employment – but only if We the People decide to just go ahead and pursue this, through our government.

How To Get To Full Employment

There are so many things we could be doing to bring about full employment. For example, this is the record of the 2009 “stimulus.” We were losing more than 800,000 jobs a month in the wake of the 2008 recession, then because of “government spending” we were gaining 100,000-250,000 jobs a month. Look at this chart and think, “No wonder Republicans don’t want more government spending to create jobs.”

Monthly_0208_0514[1]
This blog originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future (Ourfuture.org) on September 19, 2014. Reprinted with permission.  http://ourfuture.org/20140919/full-employment-is-more-than-possible-it-is-essential

About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

 

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Seattle Mayor and Sea-Tac Airport Worker Urge American Cities to Lead the Fight to Raise Wages

September 17th, 2014 | Keiana Greene-Page

seiu“Please take what we did in Seattle and export it across the country,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray told a crowd Wednesday during a panel discussion on the minimum wage at the Center for American Progress.
Also speaking at the CAP event was SeaTac Airport worker Socrates Bravo. He says the national minimum wage debate is about more than finances; it’s about families.

As a ramp agent for SeaTac subcontractor Menzies Aviation, Bravo has to work more than 20 hours of overtime per week to try to make ends meet. His hectic schedule means sacrificing valuable quality time with his 2-year-old daughter.

“She is asleep when I get home and still sleeping when I leave for work,” he says. “It’s very sad but missing our children growing up is the reality for me and other co-workers.”

Bravo discussed the impact of big businesses using bad contractors to hold down wages and benefits in cities across the nation at Wednesday’s panel which included SEIU Executive Vice President Valarie Long, SEIU Healthcare 775NW President David Rolf, CAP Action Fund President Ted Strickland, UCLA Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment Michael Reich, and Nick Hanauer of Second Avenue Partners.

Bravo also told how airport workers in partnership with the community have fought successfully to pass Proposition 1 in SeaTac.

Although the bill to increase SeaTac’s minimum wage is being fought in the courts, airport workers have helped build momentum among workers and elected officials in Washington. Earlier this year, Seattle City Council passed its $15 minimum wage bill. Just last week, 33,000 Washington home care workers won a new union contract with hourly wages above $14 and a retirement plan.

Bravo hopes these victories will inspire other cities and Congress to take action to address the challenges mothers and fathers face while working hard to provide for their families.

Low wages are especially unfair for airport ramp workers like Socrates who put their lives on the line every day. Since 2006, four Menzies workers have died following accidents at US airports. Last week, and American Airlines contract worker died in Detroit.

“The fight at SeaTac airport that spread to Seattle is not just about receiving a $15 an hour minimum wage. It’s about fairness, dignity and respect,” Bravo said. “It allows a voice to the voiceless. It allows us to live a life. As parents, we just want to give our children an opportunity to live a better life than we lived.”

“This blog originally appeared in the SEIU Blog section on September 12, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/09/seattle-mayor-and-sea-tac-airport-worker-urge-amer.php

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On Wages, The Economist Agrees

September 17th, 2014 | Jonathan Tasini

jonathan-tasiniThe other day I wrote about a campaign by the International Trade Union Confederation t push the G20 to make hiking wages   the cornerstone of any policy to create a sustained and healthy global economy. The Economist agrees.

The magazine had a relatively long piece in its September 6th edition (subscription paywall) entitled, “The big freeze: Throughout the rich world, wages are struck”.  After looking at a variety of countries, and pronouncing the situation grim, the last paragraph really is what mattered:

Wages, of course, are not just important to central bankers. Weak pay saps revenue from income tax and social-security contributions, making it harder for governments to mend public finances. The lack of growth in real wages hurts household finances, too, keeping consumers tight-fisted. A healthy and sustained recovery in the rich world will remain elusive until the pay squeeze ends. [emphasis added]

“This blog originally appeared in Workinglife.org on September 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.workinglife.org/2014/09/10/on-wages-the-economist-agrees/

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini has done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out, he created Working Life. He has also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995).

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Debunking the Heritage Foundation’s New Minimum Wage Myths One by One

September 12th, 2014 | Jiao Lan

The Heritage Foundation released a new Issue Brief this week: “Higher Fast-Food Wages: Higher Fast Food Prices”. Author James Sherk claims that if the minimum wage in the fast-food industry were to increase to $15 an hour, “the average fast-food restaurant would have to raise prices by nearly two-fifths … caus[ing] sales to drop by more than one-third, and profits to fall by more than three-quarters.”

While the Heritage Foundation attempts to present a mathematically and logically correct depiction of the aftermath of a minimum-wage increase, they fail to acknowledge one fundamentally important fact: the increase will be gradual, occurring over a period of years. Even without considering the report’s many other flaws, the Heritage Foundation’s assumption of a sudden jump in the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 to $15 is unrealistic.

As Vanessa Wong highlights in “This is What Would Happen if Fast-Food Workers Got Raises”, there are two distinct types of outlets: “those run by the company, and those operated by independent franchisees who set their own wages and pay royalties to the chain.” Thus, Heritage Foundation hastily categorized all fast-food restaurants as one, not even considering the elephant in the room: the corporations such as McDonald’s that charge each branch high franchising fees.

So, how much are these small franchisees paying the mother-ship corporations? According to Robert E. Bond’s “How Much Can I Make?” the franchise fee, royalties, and advertising for a typical McDonald’s is $45,000, +12.5%, and 4%. For a doughnut shop like Dunkin’ Donuts, the fees are even higher, with a franchise fee of $50,000.

If Heritage’s figures are correct, these fast-food restaurants have a profit margin of just 3 percent before taxes, which “works out to approximately $27,000 a year.”  Thus, the franchise fee and royalties are way too high — those profits go directly to, in this case, McDonald’s, which  operates at a profit margin of 19.31% as of June 30, 2014.

McDonald’s and other large fast-food companies have successfully shrugged off responsibility for the welfare of its workers by making the franchisees responsible. The low-wage jobs — and the cost of these salaries — are offloaded on the franchisees, while the corporations maintain their guaranteed profits, and relative profit margins from quarter to quarter.

Raising the minimum wage — even if only to $10.10, not to the living wage level of $15 an hour — is an economic imperative. Heritage believes that fast-food restaurants still offer “entry level jobs,” and “generally employ younger and less-experienced workers”.

Fast-food restaurants used to be a place for “entry level employees” — teens and young adults, sometimes still in school, newly entering the workforce. The recession drastically changed the dynamic. Today, at fast-food restaurants, we see the faces of older workers on the other side of the counter. Many are parents who rely on their full-time fast-food jobs to support themselves and their families. Instead of providing a “first work experience”, fast-food jobs are now a primary  source of income for older, experienced workers.

The problem, once again, is corporations. Individual fast-food restaurants should not be the only battlefront in the fight for livable wages. We should demand that the mother-ship fast-food corporations let go of their greed, and lower their franchise fees and annual royalties.

The Heritage Foundation points its finger in the wrong direction: the responsibility for providing minimum wage fast-food workers with a livable wage falls on the corporations.

This article originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future on September 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20140910/debunking-the-heritage-foundations-new-minimum-wage-myths-one-by-one.

About the author: Jiao (Kitty) Lan is a Roosevelt Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. She is a sophomore at Georgetown University, majoring in Political Economy and Financial Engineering and has taken an interest in Computer Science in her first two semesters. She has had several political internships, including one with Rep. Mike Honda and one with Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Her top three anything are Pops cereal, her two tiny yet vivacious Pomeranians, and traveling the world.

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13 Years After 9/11, Honor the Victims, Help Those Still Suffering

September 12th, 2014 | Richard Trumka

Richard TrumkaToday we mark the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11. As we honor the memories of the lives that were lost that day, we should also remember the thousands of people who are still suffering.

More than 100,000 rescue and recovery workers—including firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians, building and construction trades workers and transit workers—and hundreds of thousands of other workers and residents near Ground Zero were exposed to a toxic mix of dust and fumes from the collapse of the World Trade Center. Now more than 30,000 responders are sick and many have died from respiratory diseases and other health problems.

The AFL-CIO is a longtime advocate of the World Trade Center Health Program and supported the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which passed in 2010 and provided medical care and compensation to the victims. The law, which expires after five years, needs to be extended and has garnered bipartisan support to achieve that goal. This year, in remembrance of all who lost their lives on 9/11 and in honor of the brave responders who are still suffering, we ask you to contact your member of Congress and urge them to support the 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

Originally appeared in ALF-CIO Blog on September 11, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Richard Trumka was elected President of the AFL-CIO in 2009 by acclamation at the Federation’s 26th convention in Pittsburgh, Pa., and re-elected in 2013 by AFL-CIO convention delegates in Los Angeles. His election, following 15 years of service as the AFL-CIO’s Secretary-Treasurer, capped Trumka’s rise to leadership of the nation’s largest labor federation from humble beginnings in the small coal mining communities of southwest Pennsylvania.

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CFPB Forced Arbitration Study To Go Foward As Consumer Survey Approved

September 10th, 2014 | Paul Bland

PaulBlandWeb-172Great news Monday. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can finally continue a crucial study on the effects of forced arbitration on consumers. Under the Dodd Frank Act, the CFPB has to complete a study as to whether the use of forced arbitration clauses by lenders is harmful to consumers. If the Bureau finds that forced arbitration is harmful, then it is required by the act to ban the use of forced arbitration by lenders.

We, among some others, had urged the Bureau to weigh the fact that very few consumers know anything about forced arbitration. While the clauses are justified under a bunch of rhetoric that consumers have supposedly agreed to them, in fact almost no consumers know about the rights they’ve supposedly waived. The Bureau decided it wanted to do a survey of consumers to find out what they do and don’t know about arbitration.

The Chamber of Commerce and corporate groups have vehemently argued that the Bureau should not consider whether consumers know anything about the rights that they use. So long as consumers formally have rights, banks argue, it doesn’t matter whether they know about their formal rights or not. I have been very critical of that position, arguing that of course it makes sense for the bureau to survey consumers. (We believe that the evidence overwhelmingly supports the Bureau banning arbitration in any case, but this is an additional reason.) Here’s something I wrote a while ago on this point: http://www.publicjustice.net/blog/cfpb-surveying-consumers-see-what-if-anything-they-know-about-arbitration

Anyhow, the consumer survey appeared to be slowing things down, because the Office of Management and Budget (picture the little trolls in Dilbert who work in accounting, slowing down everything and killing every good idea) was taking forever to approve this simple survey.

The roadblock has been lifted – the OMB has FINALLY gotten out of the way.

This blog originally appeared in Public Justice Righting Wrongs on September 10, 2014. Reprinted with Permission.

About the author: F. Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy.

As staff and senior attorney, he was responsible for developing, handling, and helping Public Justice’s cooperating attorneys litigate a diverse docket of public interest cases. Paul has argued and won more than 30 cases that led to reported decisions for consumers, employees or whistleblowers in six of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the high courts of nine different states. Paul’s Twitter handle is @FPBland.

Paul has presented at more than 100 continuing legal education or professional conferences in more than 25 states; has testified in both houses of Congress, several state legislatures and administrative agencies; has been quoted in more than 100 periodicals throughout the country and has appeared in several radio and TV stories.

 

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SEIU Home Care Workers Win $14 an Hour and Retirement Plan in Washington State

September 9th, 2014 | SEIU

seiu

SEIU home care workers in Washington State are celebrating an historic contract win that provides the first-ever retirement plan for any home care workers in the nation, raises their average wage to more than $14 a hour, and includes paid time off.

“This contract represents a victory for the state’s most vulnerable people, the citizens we provide care for,” said Sylvia Liang, a Seattle home care worker and SEIU Healthcare 775NW member leader. “We’re pleased that the state recognizes the importance of providing quality long term care and treating workers with dignity and respect.”

Following last week’s fast food strikes, the home care workers in Washington State are the latest example of people across the nation joining together to raise wages and raise up our communities, so we have an economy that works for everyone and a democracy where everyone has a voice.

The contract victory comes on the heels of SEIU Local 775NW’s successful coalition effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Seattle and at SeaTac. In fact, Local president David Rolf’s leadership on the “Minimum Wage Brigade” last week earned him the number 17 spot on the Politico 50, a list of people getting things done in an age of “gridlock and dysfunction.”

This blog originally appeared on the SEIU Blog on September 8, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/09/seiu-home-care-workers-win-14-an-hour-and-retireme.php.

 

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“Just Cause” and the Attack on Job Security

September 7th, 2014 | Dollars and Sense Real World Economics rand

The United States is alone among industrialized countries in allowing workers to be considered “at will” employees and dismissed for any reason—justified or not—unless protected by a collective-bargaining agreement or individual contract. At-will employees have no job security. They can be fired for a mistake, an argument with a supervisor, a critical comment about the enterprise or management, taking a sick day, a complaint about working conditions or pay, or involvement in outside political campaigns—all activities that workers protected by just-cause contract language enjoy with far less fear of losing their jobs.

Employers who are compelled to respect just cause aren’t sitting still. For example, a California judge ruled in June that public-school teacher tenure and seniority rules are unconstitutional. The lawsuit that led to the Vergara v. California decision was financed by multi-millionaire David Welch and backed by a slick PR firm. The suit argued that low-income students performed poorly on tests because of bad teachers who were protected by tenure—not because of school underfunding, large classes, or poverty itself.

The state teachers’ union, the California Teachers Association, noted that the judge ruled against due process rights for teachers because of testimony that “3% of teachers are grossly ineffective,” a statistic the union says was invented. While Vergara v. California is under appeal and only applies to California teachers, the anti-worker forces behind the lawsuit promise more legal assaults on teachers in other states.

The New York Times editorialized in favor of Vergara. “The ruling opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle,” the editors said. “It also underscores a shameful problem that has cast a long shadow over the lives of children, not just in California but in the rest of the country as well.”

Those who see the ruling as “just” affecting teachers, though, are missing the big picture. It’s part of a larger attack on union members, and on workers in general, including the elimination of public workers’ collective-bargaining rights in Wisconsin the adoption of “right-to-work” (or what labor activists call “right-to-work-for-less”) laws in Indiana and Michigan, and the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision that will bar “agency fee” requirements for some public union members.

This blog originally appeared in Dollars and Sense Real World Economics in the September/October 2014 issue. Reprinted with permission. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0914wilson.html.

A common theme in all these attacks is the effort to weaken or remove the due-process and job-security provisions in union contracts, typically known as “just cause” provisions that protect members from arbitrary discipline and discharge.

Reflecting the growing public sentiment against union members’ job security, the Times editors concluded: “Teachers deserve reasonable due process rights and job protections. But the unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.”

The view that genuine job security and due process rights are “anachronistic” brings the labor movement to a significant crossroad. We can continue the status quo by spending our shrinking resources to defend tenure, job security, and due-process rights for the declining number of union members who have these benefits now—or we could seize this opportunity to champion “just cause” standards for all workers. A strong push to broaden “just cause” standards would appeal to all workers and put employers on the defensive.

Winning “just cause” legislation, beginning at the state level, would not be easy. But building a movement on this issue offers union leaders and activists an opportunity to champion a cause that will benefit all workers and help unions grow.

Some teachers unions are already embracing this approach. School teachers in Los Angeles have made just cause a cornerstone of their campaign to win union recognition at the Ivy Academia Charter School. Organizers report that it garnered strong support from parents and the community. By building this kind of broad-based support for just-cause for all, the labor movement will be in a stronger position with new allies when employers and politicians seek to roll back just-cause articles in union contracts.

Imagine the labor movement leading a $50- to $100-million campaign over the next five years to win just-cause protections for all workers in eight to ten states where grassroots movements have shown a desire to pursue it. Employers and their political allies would be forced on the defensive, fighting an uphill battle to protect the “freedom to fire.”

Union leaders still have to do everything possible to defend due-process rights in union contracts and stop political attacks in the legislature. But launching a major “Just Cause for All” campaign could help make labor a champion of the 99% percent, spur more workers to form unions, and help blunt the assault on our rights

This blog originally appeared in Dollars and Sense in the September/October 2014 issue. Reprinted with permission. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0914wilson.html.

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A Historic Day in the Fight for Fair Wages

September 5th, 2014 | SEIU

seiuHome care workers join call for $15 and a union.

Fast Food workers raise stakes in acts of civil disobedience.

In 150 cities from coast to coast, thousands of working people today demonstrated  at fast food restaurants as part of a “history-making,” growing movement to get our economy moving again by improving wages.

“We’re a movement now… We know this is going to be a long fight, but we’re going to fight it till we win,” Latoya Caldwell of Kansas City, Mo., said in a news story chronicling the many victories for working people that brave fast food workers have won in their fight so far.

At the crack of dawn, 52 fast food workers in Detroit and 21 fast food workers in New York were arrested during sit-ins calling on McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and others to raise their pay. Additional arrests came soon after everywhere from Chicago to Little Rock.

In Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit, home care workers – both nonunion and SEIU members – joined fast food workers in their call for $15 an hour and the right to unite in a union.

“Earning $15 would make a huge difference,” LaTonya Allen, a home-care aide in Atlanta who earns $9 an hour, told the New York Times. “It would really help me and my husband pay our bills. It would enable us to do more things together as a family. All we do now is work, work, work.”

Originally appeared in SEIU Blog on September 4, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://www.seiu.org/blog/

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When merely considering your rights can get you fired!

September 3rd, 2014 | Afshin Mozaffari

Employers may be reluctant to admit that their policies are designed to shut workers out of our civil justice system.  But there is no denying their intent.

Consider this example.  Elizabeth is a widow with five children who came into my office this spring.  Since the death of her husband a few years ago, she immersed herself in her work to provide for her family. Elizabeth didn’t earn much at her job, but her work as a waitress was enough to support her children.  She had been working for a California-based restaurant chain for nine years.

During a Friday shift last year, Elizabeth was informed about a new kind of company policy – an arbitration agreement that she was told she had to sign and return by Monday.  Elizabeth tried to find an attorney over the weekend to explain the document to her, and when she couldn’t, she asked her employer for more time to review the agreement.  She was fired a few days later for missing the 72-hour deadline.  The company also fired several other employees for either declining to sign the arbitration agreement or not doing so by the company-imposed deadline.

Elizabeth’s case is not uncommon, but it underscores just how much “free choice” goes into these “agreements.” Remarkably, courts have held that terminating employees for not signing employer-mandated arbitration agreements is not illegal.  These and other decisions are beginning to reach their absurd conclusions, where courts enforce arbitration agreements without regard to the rights of the affected individuals, enforcement of our laws, or the administration of justice. As Judge Jack Zouhary (a George W. Bush appointee) recently wrote in an order compelling arbitration of an antitrust claim, “This Court is bound by case law’s pro arbitration bent … common sense plays no role.”

Compulsory private arbitration has been the favored corporate practice for years.  It is easy to understand why.  Highly-paid private arbitrators, whose livelihood often depends on the repeat business from the same large corporations, render “justice” to an aggrieved employee who almost certainly will never appear before them again.  The inherent disadvantage for low wage workers facing off against multi-million dollar corporate employers in any setting is obvious, but the disadvantage is compounded in an arbitral forum.  Despite this, our courts have generally enforced these “agreements.”

I often see aggrieved employees who have signed arbitration agreements without understanding the content or the significance of the document. They sign the documents that their employers put in front of them, in order to continue working and to feed their families.  In fact, most workers don’t learn what the term “arbitration” means until they consult with an attorney and learn that they have already signed away their right to seek justice in a court.

But the compulsory nature of these arbitration agreements is undeniable when we look at the employees that don’t blindly “agree” to an employer’s mandatory arbitration policy, or those like Elizabeth who merely ask for time to conduct a careful review and to consider their rights before agreeing to sign them away.  If there was any question whether such “agreements” are a condition of employment, Elizabeth’s experience offers the answer.

Are we beginning to see the end to these extreme practices? On July 31, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting certain federal contractors from forcing their employees out of court and into arbitration in workplace discrimination cases.

Although this executive action is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. Congress continues to ignore this systematic denial of justice to our workers by failing to move forward on the Arbitration Fairness Act, which has been pending since last year.  The Act would ban forced arbitrations in employment and consumer settings. Until workers have a real choice in deciding where to claim their rights, the scales of justice will remain unbalanced.

This blog originally appeared in CELA Voice on August 26, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://celavoice.org/category/afshin-mozaffari/.

About the Author: Afshin Mozaffari is the founder and principal of Mozaffari Law. Mr. Mozaffari’s practice focuses on civil rights and employee rights litigation, including discrimination (based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability or medical condition, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, and pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions), sexual harassment, retaliation, disability accommodation, wrongful termination, and wage & hour. Prior to the founding of Mozaffari Law, Mr. Mozaffari represented numerous corporations, schools, and non-profits in employment law, torts, business litigation, and class action cases. He recently left the defense side to follow his long-held passion for representing the rights of employees and other individuals.

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