Sixteen UC Hastings students will spend four days of their winter break with California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) working with low-wage workers in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
The venture marks the first such extensive collaboration with CRLA, one of the state’s largest legal aid organizations. 2L Perla E. Parra drew on her experience working with a co-op of single mothers in South Africa while getting her master’s in public policy from Cornell to help create the project. The CRLA pro bono project has proved so popular, Parra has had to turn student volunteers away.
“There is so much we could be doing locally,” said Parra. She worked directly with CRLA’s Executive Director, Jose Padilla, over the summer, to explore the possibility of a partnership. To that end, Perla also worked with Nancy Stuart, Associate Dean of Experiential Learning, and 3L colleague Pedro Hernandez to found PILARC, the Partnership Initiative & Legal Aid to Rural Communities, an entirely student-led project that seeks to work with community groups and organizations serving rural California.
Hernandez, who interned with CRLA over the summer in their Watsonville office, collaborated with Gretchen Regenhardt, CRLA’s Directing Attorney in Watsonville, to help craft the project. The PILARC project is also co-sponsored by the Hastings Students for Immigrants’ Rights.
Students will survey low-wage workers that help support the tourist economy about wage and hour issues, health and safety conditions, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Additionally, the students will distribute “Know Your Rights” materials in and around the Watsonville and Santa Cruz areas, along with a resource list of where to get help with workplace issues. Students will potentially schedule follow-up calls with those who identify serious legal issues. Students will also have the option to continue to work with CRLA beyond the winter project to help produce a report on local conditions for low-wage workers and identify trends for future projects and advocacy.
Students are also planning to visit other legal aid organizations and meet with local lawmakers, including Assemblyman Luis A. Alejo (D-Salinas), who has led efforts to raise California’s minimum wage.
Focus on Low-Wage Tourist Industry Workers
While much progress has been made to protect the rights of farm workers in California’s fertile Central Valley, there is a growing need and thus a renewed focus on other low-wage industries: line cooks, dishwashers, bussers, wait staff, janitors, and landscapers, many of whom work for well below minimum wage.
Dean Stuart says student-led projects like PILARC allow students, regardless of the type of law they ultimately want to practice, the opportunity to do meaningful hands-on legal work in substantive areas they may not be familiar with. Most importantly, it gives them a window into the legal needs of rural communities.
Parra said the first reaction of students who have applied is, typically, “How else can I help?” “This appeals to a broad base of students,” she said. “We have 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls, from all walks of life, coming together on this project.”
The CLRA pro bono week is the first PILARC project. Parra and her supporters plan a second opportunity for students to do pro bono field work during their spring break.
PILARC is currently seeking sponsors for the project. Learn more about how you can support their efforts with CLRA here.