Making the Company Work for You: Exploring Sustainable Business Models to Advance Social Justice and Protect Workers’ Rights

The Client: The Center for Worker Justice (CWJ) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization located in Iowa City, Iowa. CWJ works with immigrants and low wage workers in Johnson County and focuses on four policy areas: just workplaces, affordable housing, civil rights, and immigration. CWJ has been investigating strategies to both create more just workplaces and address vulnerabilities of immigrant workers. CWJ is considering establishing a restaurant for workers with limited opportunities and/or without work authorization.  

The Problem: Federal law prohibits individuals without work authorization from being hired as employees. This creates significant difficulties for individuals without work authorization who need gainful employment and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Additionally, there are few opportunities for low-wage workers with work authorization to start their own businesses. In addition to arguing for policy changes, CWJ wanted to become actively involved with helping these individuals obtain better employment.

The Outcome: CELP clinic law students spoke with the executive director and members of CWJ to learn more about the goals and plans for the project. The students interviewed immigrants’ rights groups and groups involved in cooperative businesses, as well as conducted their own legal research to understand the contours of federal law regarding immigration and employment and the state requirements and regulations for different types of business entities and food businesses. The student created a report and chart comparing CWJ’s goals and various business entities in Iowa and presented their recommendations orally and in writing to CWJ.