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Program connects aggrieved workers with lawyers

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The Baltimore Sun
Published:
Lots of workers complain about their bosses.
In fact, tens of thousands of employees each year go so far as to take their concerns to the Department of Labor -- more grievances than the agency can handle.
Now there's backup help. The Labor Department has established a first-of-its-kind program with the American Bar Association in which it refers complaints it won't take up to employment lawyers. The Bridge to Justice program focuses on potential violations of overtime, minimum wage and family medical leave laws.
Catherine Ruckelshaus of the National Employment Law Project that advocates for low-wage workers, says her group has long sought such a program, pointing to a "dearth of enforcement" of basic wage and hour laws.
Workers filed more than 40,000 complaints nationally in the last fiscal year with the Labor Department.
The division doesn't act on about many of those complaints and advises those workers that they have a right to sue on their own.
But exercising that right or finding an experienced employment lawyer to help is often a significant hurdle, federal officials acknowledge.
That's where the Bridge to Justice program comes in.
Workers can get a toll-free number that directs them to an ABA-approved lawyer referral service in their area.
Some readers -- and corporate lawyers -- at this point might be thinking that the government is helping the plaintiffs' bar beat up on businesses.
Ruckelshaus says she's heard Bridge to Justice criticized as "a jobs program for trial lawyers."
But, she adds: "The law is the law." Employers who skirt it and exploit workers have an unfair advantage over employers who play by the rules, she says.

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