About the Human Rights Authority
The inherent worth and dignity of every person is embodied in Human Rights. While rarely enforced legally, Human Rights have inspired groups to organize and mobilize to achieve social change. Grassroots groups such as the United Workers, Coalition of Immokalee Workers, and the Vermont Workers Center have used Human Rights language to organize workers, mobilize communities, and achieve systemic change.
The Maryland Human Rights Authority is the legal advocacy arm and “in-house” counsel of such a group, the United Workers (UW). Patterned after the legal unit created by Cesar Chavez in the early days of the United Farm Workers, the Maryland Human Rights Authority puts the achievement of organizing goals above the achievement of legal victories. In representing workers or the organization, or while strategizing with organizers or members, the Authority asks simply, “What can law and legal strategies do to build power for this movement at this moment?”
Legitimate legal claims for unpaid wages, overtime, waiting time, sexual harassment, discrimination, worker safety are analyzed by the Authority not only for their legal merit, but their “discovery,” publicity, and solidarity value in advancing the goals of the United Workers. All of these claims are treated within the United Workers as violations of human rights—the rights to worker dignity, just and favorable conditions of employment, living wages, and health—despite being litigated as state or federal statutory violations. Legal help is provided free of charge for United Workers members.
Led by attorney, J. Peter Sabonis, who provided legal support and advocacy to the United Workers successful campaign to achieve living wages and worker dignity for laborers at Camden Yards, the Maryland Human Rights Authority has direct experience making human rights real.
The Maryland Human Rights Authority uses all advocacy tools to advance human rights in Maryland (litigation, lobbying, mobilizing), but its mission is to support organizing and the movement to end poverty. While it believes access to justice and legal representation is a human right, such access is not its primary concern. The Maryland Human Rights Authority is not a traditional legal services organization. It sees it clients as agents of social change and active participants in their cases. Litigation and advocacy are used to achieve movement goals and to assist in developing leadership among UW members.
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