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Taking an Active Approach to Giving Back

It’s all about community—working together to educate, help, share. Lending an ear when someone needs you to listen, lending a voice when another person’s troubles have gone unheard. Sometimes it’s just being there.  

Over the years, the staff of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein has not only talked the talk but has also walked the walk. Sometimes literally as we have pounded the pavement to raise money for AIDS research or driven in mock funerals to pay tribute to workers who have been killed or injured on job.

This community activism has also taken an educational tack wherein the firm’s attorneys teach a wide variety of Southern California’s workers—from electricians and steelworkers to grocery store clerks and deli managers—about their rights and what to do if they are injured on and off the job.    

We are dedicated to giving back by sharing knowledge, resources and time.

Working Together to Stop the Stealing

Wage theft is a crime—literally and morally. And yet, it happens daily throughout Los Angeles County and across the nation.

"Wage theft is bosses stealing from employees, leaving them [with nothing] while they run home with money in the bank," said Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Executive Director of CLUE-LA, as he addressed the audience at a recent Wage Theft Ingathering presented by the organization.  

Rabbi Klein

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Executive Director of CLUE-LA, addresses the audience at a recent
Wage Theft Ingathering presented by the organization. 

The mission of CLUE-LA (Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice) is to educate, organize and mobilize the faith community to walk with workers and their families as they face their struggle for respect and dignity in the workplace and beyond. This is precisely what they did during the ingathering, which included testimony from workers and area leaders from such groups as the CLEAN Car Wash Campaign, the L.A. Coalition Against Wage Theft, the Garment Workers Center, the Filipino Migrant Center and the Port Truck Drivers Campaign.

"We were proud to have been a sponsor of the ingathering because we see on a daily basis the impact that unjust working conditions have not only on workers, but also their families," says Mark Edelstein, Managing Partner of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK). "Many of our clients work for less-than-living wages and in conditions that are unsafe. And, often times, these are the workers who are most reluctant to speak up or report a workplace injury."

Rabbi Klein

Los Angeles is considered the "wage theft capital of the country," according to Victor Narro, UCLA Labor Center's Project Director. He characterized wage theft as a "major humanitarian crisis."

That crisis includes "an economic wall of low wages," said Rusty Hicks, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "For those young people who live in areas with low wages, college is unlikely, but jail isn't. This is a moral imperative and an economic imperative. People in this city want to be self-reliant. They believe in the American dream of hard work. What they're saying is, 'We're happy to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, but first we need the boots.'"

So, just exactly what is wage theft? A textbook definition would be the withholding of wages or the denial of benefits that are rightfully owed to a worker. Examples include the following:

  • Violation of the minimum wage.
  • Not paying all overtime.
  • Employees being forced to work off the clock.
  • Workers not receiving their final paycheck.
  • Workers having their tips stolen by management.
  • Payroll fraud or "misclassification."

Every week, 80 percent of low-wage workers in the city lose $26.2 million in wage theft violations, according to Narro.  And, even when workers stand up to "the man," 83 percent of them never see a dime.  

The solution? Many who are working diligently to remedy this situation, including the Los Angeles Coalition Against Wage Theft, feel it all begins with enabling workers to do the following:

  • Collect—Create simple yet efficient tools for workers to collect the wages they've earned.
  • Protect—Stop  employers from retaliating against workers who speak up about wage theft.
  • Enforce—Provide the City of Los Angeles with the ability to enforce anti-wage-theft measures.

"It is clear that organizing and advocacy are vital if the tide is going to turn in terms of the mistreatment of workers," says Edelstein. "We at GEK feel it is our duty to stand alongside those who are fighting against wage theft and unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. Together we will fight the good fight…and we will win."

Carlos Benavides—Proof That There Is Life After Injury

A woman is beautifully portrayed, wrapped in the American flag with two eyes behind her, floating in tumultuous clouds. The artist is Carlos Benavides, a former client of Workers' Compensation attorney (and Gordon-Edelstein partner) Adam Dombchik. The eyes, says Benavides,  are "Adam looking over me."

The painting is titled Wrapped in Hope. As Benavides explains it, "Hope is epitomized by the American flag, but there is a lot of turmoil behind it." Much like how Benavides felt during the beginning stages of his Workers' Compensation claim.

Working as a graphic designer, Benavides fell while performing his work duties. That life-changing accident led to a spinal cord injury that left him an incomplete tetraplegia.

"The turmoil is what my life was like when I first met Adam. I was at a loss, and didn't know which way I was going to go. I had already dealt with one attorney who was going to toss me to the wolves.

"I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for Adam. He opened a lot of doors for me that helped me get through the process. I am sure there were many doors slammed in his face that I didn't see as he was fighting for me."

Wrapped in Hope Painting
That fight was a true team effort.  "With Adam's help, I met [orthopedic surgeon] Dr. Sam Bakshian. Together they fought to get me into Rancho Los Amigos."  This is where the turmoil in Benavides' life started to turn around, and the person who was once a patient is now an ardent and cherished volunteer at the facility. So much so that he is being honored by the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation with the Amistad Award, which is the highest honor the foundation can give. It recognizes an individual who has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to serving Rancho Los Amigos and its patients.

Having such an honor bestowed upon Benavides is no surprise to Dombchik. "Carlos is a remarkable man with incredible strength of character. Sure, we helped him, but everything he has accomplished after facing such adversity came from deep down within him. And, the fact that he is making other people's lives better and more fulfilling because of how he has handled his misfortune is a testament to what kind of person he is."

Benavides puts it this way: "I volunteer at Rancho because I want to empower people; let them know that there are no limitations, only the ones they set for themselves. You can't be a quitter. You can do the things you used to do, you just have to adapt new ways of doing them."

Spreading that sentiment to others who have suffered spinal cord injuries is one reason Benavides joined Pushrim.org, an online community that, among other things, provides a platform through social media to share resources and information. He is now a board member.

Pushrim further instilled in Benavides what Dombchik, his doctor and his family taught him—you can't give up; there is life after injury.

"Before I was hurt, I was always on the go, I didn't pay attention to things. My family was always there for support, but I always had my head down. I took a lot of things for granted, things as simple as buttoning my shirt. At Rancho I learned to take baby steps and learned that there are things I can't do, but there are plenty of things I can do. I went outside, paid attention to the fact that I can see trees, see people. I appreciated things much more.

"Adam is not just an attorney; he's a caring person, a true friend. I learned a lot from him, and I thought, 'if he can fight for me, I can do the same for other people.'

"This is my second life, and I get enjoyment every day. The way I look at life now is that if I'm going to cross a finish line for anything, I'm going to give it 100 percent. That's what Adam did. He didn't care how we got across the finish line, he just knew we were going to finish number one."

Spinning To Find a Cure for ALS

In speaking about his disease (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis—ALS), Lou Gehrig said, "I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for."

Howard Krepack, retired partner at the law firm of Gordon, Edelstein, Krepack, Grant, Felton & Goldstein, LLP (GEK), has that same fighting spirit as he battles this dreadful disease.

It was that tenacity that motivated Howard's family (his wife Vivian and children Michael, Geoffrey, Adam and Rachel) to create an ALS Charity Ride in Howard's honor.

Howard Krepack

Howard Krepack enjoys some pre-spinning banter at the ALS Charity Ride at SOULCycle that his family created in his honor.

This is how Michael put it in his e-mail invitation:

"As most of you know, my father was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease) nearly three years ago. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects motor neurons controlling voluntary muscle movement, leaving a patient during the later stages of the disease completely paralyzed. With no known cure or drug to slow the progression, most patients live two to five years. My father lost the ability to communicate, move on his own and eat all within the first year of the disease. For the past year he has lived with the support of a ventilator breathing for him. Yet, his will to live and spirit remain firmly intact along with his incredibly sharp mind!

"As we approach the third- year mark, we decided as a family to create a charity event in his honor to benefit the largest and best non-profit for ALS research—ALS TDI. My father was an avid cyclist so we thought what better way to celebrate than to do a SoulCycle ride in his honor."

And, that is exactly what they did. On a beautiful Southern California Sunday, Howard greeted family and friends at SoulCycle, a bicycle spinning studio, as people stopped by for just a visit or to spin along with Howard's children, friends, colleagues and family members. Not only was a great time had by all, but they have already raised nearly $25,000—and counting—for ALS research.

Howard Krepack

Friends and family gather outside of SOULCycle for a post-spinning photo at the Howard Krepack ALS Charity Ride.

Michael's reaction? "My family and I are blown away by everyone's support and generosity."

Members of Howard's "GEK family" were also on hand to spin and visit.

"It was a truly inspirational event," says GEK partner Adam Dombchik who, along with GEK colleagues Amy Leung, Joanna Sacavitch and Lisa Waring, enjoyed a 45-minute spinning adventure filled with booming music, glow bracelets and plenty of encouraging shout-outs.

"Everyone had a great time," says Adam. "They raised a lot of money for a very worthwhile cause, which is fantastic. But, the best part of the whole day was knowing how proud Howard must feel about the unwavering support from his family and friends."

(If you would like to donate to support Howard and other ALS patients, please go to Howard's ALS TDI webpage link (http://community.als.net/soulcycle) and click the "Donate Now" tab on the page. This page will remain active indefinitely. Every little bit counts and all donations are 100% tax-deductible.) 

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