First-ever federal agency, private bar collaboration announced

Last week, a new Department of Labor-American Bar Association program was unveiled that will assist workers with legal complaints related to employment issues. The project, announced at a White House ceremony, is one component of a larger effort by the administration's Middle Class Task Force initiative.

Vice President Joe Biden, chair of the task force, was joined by Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, Senior Counselor for Access to Justice Laurence Tribe and others. The event focused on issues related to assistance in three areas, workers' rights, of which Robinson was part; foreclosures; and veterans.

The workers' rights component will begin a first-of-its kind partnership between a federal agency -- the Department of Labor -- and the private bar, the ABA. In a typical year, the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division receives more than 35,000 employment-related legal complaints. In order to ensure that as many workers as possible have access to legal assistance, the Department of Labor and the ABA are establishing an attorney-referral system. Workers will be referred to lawyers experienced in the Family and Medical Leave Act and Fair Labor Standards Act who will handle requests from workers nationwide through a network of state and local ABA-approved lawyer referral services.

"Our nation's workers deserve full and fair compensation, and this Administration is committed to ensuring that they receive it," said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. "Today's announced collaboration with the ABA streamlines worker access to additional legal resources and builds on the Department of Labor's continued efforts to ensure that employers comply with America's labor laws."

ABA President Stephen Zack said, "A significant number of Americans lack meaningful access to our justice system. Even for moderate-income working people, this barrier to access is primarily financial in nature. Too many simply cannot afford the cost of counsel to help them resolve their legal problems."

Zack noted that, in working with the Department of Labor, the ABA will use its role as national coordinator of state and local bar association Lawyer Referral and Information Services to help provide access to individuals with employment-related legal problems.

The ABA was represented at the event by president-elect Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, who explained the scope of the problem, noting that when a worker fails to receive the wages that he or she has properly earned, the worker is left vulnerable to other legal problems, such as foreclosure, unpaid child support or not being able to meet bills from creditors.

Published: Tue, Nov 23, 2010

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