2012-2013 BLF Fellow Sebastian Sanchez to Advocate for Car Wash Workers in New York City

Sebastian Sanchez has been awarded BLF’s post-graduate fellowship for the 2012-2013 year.  Mr.  Sanchez is a 2012 graduate of the Seton Hall Law School, where he was a Center for Social Justice Scholar for the Urban Revitalization Project.  Sebastian has worked as an immigration paralegal with the New York Legal Assistance Group in New York, served as an interpreter for community groups like Domestic Workers United and the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice, and helped to develop an emergency hot-line for immigrants facing immigration raids in New Jersey.

As a scholar at the Center for Social Justice, Sebastian developed and presented know-your-rights presentations on immigration, mortgage-fraud, and tenants’ rights. He also helped draft briefs on education law issues, challenging the reduction in State funding to public schools in New Jersey, and State control of the Newark public school district. He focused his summer work on the experience of immigrant workers, working at Make the Road New York (MRNY) and the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, organizations with extensive histories combating exploitative working conditions, particularly in low-wage and immigrant communities.

As a fellow, Sebastian will return to MRNY, a unique organization that empowers Latino and working class communities, through organizing, policy innovation, education, and direct services. Sebastian will join the legal team at MRNY to help pilot a new initiative to provide legal advocacy, community education, and policy support to the car wash worker community in New York, a population that suffers rampant wage theft and abuse.

Sebastian will work closely with organizers to reach out to workers, identify wage theft, and develop strategies and responses. The campaign will provide direct services to car wash workers in matters of wage theft, workers’ compensation or other legal issues that may arise in relation to their employment. While working to recover unpaid wages through negotiation and litigation, the project will also pursue other methods to promote a substantial and sustainable impact that improves the car wash industry as a whole. Sebastian will help to develop know-your-rights seminars for workers and draft legislation to improve regulation of the industry. Sebastian will work with local community groups and unions, like New York Communities for Change and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, to develop broad structural support for the workers in this community. Launching this industry-focused project represents a new strategy for MRNY, and will be made possible with Sebastian as a dedicated fellow to help develop and run this pilot project.