A Day In The Life

Empowering New Yorkers Through the Employment Law Unit

When the city shut down in March, the phones began to ring nonstop. New Yorkers inundated our telephone helplines: worried about unemployment insurance, receiving their last few paychecks after losing their jobs, or going to work with a sick loved one at home. Overnight, the Employment Law Unit, which traditionally handles cases involving wage theft, workplace discrimination, family and medical leave, labor trafficking, along with unemployment insurance, became an emergency practice.

Young Woo Lee, Director of the Employment Law Unit, was prepared for the crisis. He previously worked in our Housing Practice, where clients are often on the brink of eviction or homelessness. His clients are now facing similar pressing dilemmas. “If you’re not working for a couple of months, it catches up. Especially in this city.”

A lot of our clients who are low-wage workers know they are getting taken advantage of, but they don’t think they have a choice.

New Yorkers who previously never had to apply for assistance now find themselves navigating the inadequate and complicated bureaucracies our clients have dealt with for decades – and are now suffering the frustrations that come from it. For Young and his team, the last few months consisted of helping this wave of newly unemployed New Yorkers obtain their long-overdue unemployment insurance benefits, while still representing clients in all the other areas that the Employment Law Unit handles. Young and his colleagues handled hundreds of calls, and conducted more than 60 trainings with trade groups, other advocates, elected officials, churches, synagogues, PTAs, professional associations and others.

As New York City tries to re-open businesses, workers are still at risk. Unsafe working conditions pose a serious threat to the low-wage workers we represent, and the exploitation of low-wage workers remains a serious problem. Young and his team are giving a voice to those who are being exploited, and helping vulnerable workers navigate this crisis.

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