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UAW President Ron Gettelfinger took questions from second-grader Noah Morisi at Pierce Elementary in Birmingham, Mich., during a June 4 taping for the "KidWitness News" program. "How is a typical day for your job?" the budding journalist, 7, asked. "There's no typical day," Gettelfinger said. "I normally leave home at quarter to five in the morning. Then whenever the day ends, I go home. So every day is different, and that's one of the things that's exciting. Like, look at me, Noah. I get to sit here and be interviewed by you. This has never happened before in my job – to come to a second-grade class and have somebody like you interview me."
Audrey Richardson and Ingrid Nava are attorneys with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) and members of UAW Local 2320's National Organization of Legal Service Workers.
And they're heroes to more than 750 workers at Michael Bianco Inc., a factory in New Bedford, Mass., that manufactured military gear for the U.S. Department of Defense.
The attorneys helped win a settlement of $850,000 for 764 workers illegally denied wages and overtime pay from the company, which has since been sold to Eagle Industries.
Some workers received up to $6,000 each.
"We're pleased to recover the wages that Bianco workers earned and should have been paid," said lead attorney Richardson. "Unfortunately, this settlement achieves only partial justice for workers whose lives and families were torn apart by the raid."
"The raid" refers to March 2007 when Bianco was the focus of a federal immigration raid broadly criticized for its inhumane treatment of workers and their families. Afterward, the GBLS immigration unit won release of more than 200 detainees and successfully represented many of the workers in their asylum claims.
GBLS filed a federal class action lawsuit alleging wage and overtime law violations, including having employees work a full day shift, clock out at 5 p.m. and then clock back in at 5:30 p.m. for the evening shift – with no overtime pay. But if workers clocked in a few minutes late, often due to long lines at the time clocks, Bianco docked their pay by 15 to 30 minutes.
"These policies hurt all workers, immigrants and nonimmigrants alike, and it clarifies how desperately federal immigration reform is needed so workers are empowered to enforce their labor rights," said Richardson.
"I interviewed some of the workers being detained, and a woman told me she came to the United States to get a job because in her country if you are over 30 years old, you cannot work in factories, which are some of the only places that most people in her country can work," said Nava.
GBLS is a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to low-income citizens.
"We're proud to represent the members of Local 2320 who do some of UAW's hardest work seeking justice for those in need," said UAW Region 9A Director Bob Madore.
"In these economic times, legal services programs are being cut to the bone, and yet these attorneys continue to find ways to provide their services.
"In fact, the GBLS attorneys put themselves on work share due to funding cuts to avoid layoffs so they could keep helping people," he added.
As union members, "there is a sense of mutual support and solidarity that enables us to continue to do this work even in hard times," Richardson said.
"The UAW has always reached beyond its membership to achieve civil and social justice for everyone," said Nava, whose background includes union organizing. "The UAW is a union that really walks the walk in the belief that an injury to one is an injury to all."