Fellowship Offers Labor Rights Experience

Portrait of David Rodriguez

Texas Law student David Rodriguez ’25 gained valuable experience last summer as part of the legal team at the Workers Defense Project in Austin, a position attained through the highly competitive Peggy Browning Fellowship Program.

The nationwide fellowship program provides law students with work experience in social and economic justice during 10-week summer fellowships. According to its website, the program awards positions to “distinguished students who have not only excelled in law school, but who have demonstrated their commitment to workers’ rights through their education, job, and personal experiences, or volunteer work.” Rodriguez is the 14th Texas Law student to earn a position through this program.

Rodriguez’s passion for helping underrepresented groups, particularly immigrant communities, was ignited by his upbringing and surrounding community in South Florida.

“David’s work with the Workers Defense Project epitomizes the impact a dedicated law student can have in the area of workers’ rights,” says Nicole Simmons, director of the law school’s William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, which administered the fellowship. “His commitment to representing low-wage workers is to be commended, and we are delighted that he was honored by the Peggy Browning Fund and selected as a 2023 fellow.”

While working at the WDP, Rodriguez helped file wage theft claims with the Texas Workforce Commission and the U.S. Department of Labor, assisted a group of workers in filing a Section 7 claim with the National Labor Relations Board, and appealed to the Austin Office of Civil Rights for a sexual harassment claim. He also helped workers receive statements of interest to apply for deferred action for labor enforcement, which protects non-citizen workers from threats of immigration-related retaliation from exploitive employers. Additionally, Rodriguez participated in meetings with workers and organizers and led a “Know Your Rights” training for new and potential members of WDP. 

Rodriguez characterized his summer as a unique opportunity. “The WDP’s worker-centered model brings together direct legal aid with community organizing and policy work in a way few other organizations do,” explains Rodriguez.

He gained many benefits from the experience. “The casework I was given strengthened my legal research and writing skills and taught me a lot about labor and employment law,” he says. “My opportunities to interact with workers, clients, and community leaders helped me understand strategies organizers use to help bring systemic change. This will continue to influence me wherever my practice takes me.”

David Rodriguez with his co-workers at Workers Defense Project
David Rodriguez (center) with his supervisor at the Workers Defense Project, Staff Attorney Hannah Alexander ’16, and the organization’s legal intake coordinator, Jose Caceras.

“Workers Defense loved having David with us during the summer,’ says WDP Austin Staff Attorney Hannah Alexander ’16, who served as his supervisor. “We are excited to continue building a relationship with Texas Law and hosting students for internships and fellowships.”

This semester, Rodriguez is working with Texas Law’s Transnational Worker Rights Clinic, which represents low-income transnational migrant workers in cases to recover unpaid wages. In his work there, he has been involved with wage theft cases as well as a sexual harassment case. Rodriguez says that following graduation he’s currently most interested in representing low-wage workers in employment matters.

“I truly appreciate everyone at Workers Defense for being so welcoming, nurturing, and passionate about the people they represent, and I appreciate the Peggy Browning Fund for giving me guidance and connecting me with WDP and others,” says Rodriguez. Texas Law students have many opportunities to gain similar practical experience through summer fellowships, including those administered through the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law in conjunction with the law school’s Summer Public Service Program.

Category: Center News, Student Life