Spotlight on Tania Millan, Wage Justice Center

This month we are spotlighting Tania Millan, the Director of Finance & Administration at the Wage Justice Center in Los Angeles, and a recent graduate of the Executive Fellowship Program.

Please tell us the mission of the Wage Justice Center, and your work at the organization.

Wage Justice Center is fighting to reduce poverty for low-income Californian’s experiencing wage theft. Our clients often live paycheck to paycheck, and by using the law as an equilibrium, we help them assert their basic rights. My work at the organization has evolved over the last seven years. Starting as a case manager, I learned first-hand the detrimental impact of wage theft to workers and their families; stress, anxiety, hunger, abuse, and sometimes homelessness to name a few. Currently, as the Director of Finance and Administration, I’m driven to do the work needed for the sustainability of the organization to ensure continued services to low-income workers. The most rewarding part of my work is delivering the wages we recover. It is my duty to help and work for those who for unjust and illegal reasons are denied their basic right to receive compensation for their labor.

What are the key challenges facing your clients, and the work you are doing to address them?

Wage theft is the biggest challenge our clients are facing. Our fight for wage justice goes beyond the monetary value, we want to restore the dignity of workers who are left in the shadows in the underground economy. The Wage Justice Center was founded to address the lack of post judgment collection efforts for low-income California’s. We have developed innovative legal theories to hold exploitative employers accountable for illegal business practices. We also pioneered specialized legal services for day laborer who are experiencing wage theft, using a tool referred to as a “mechanics lien, which allows a laborer to place a lien on the property on which they labored and were not paid for. Our clients are directly impacted by COVID-19 and based on trends from the last recession, we anticipate an unprecedented increase in wage theft and violations from unscrupulous employers.

What drew you to want to participate in the OneJustice Executive Fellowship Program?

Initially I felt enthusiasm to learn about the work of One Justice, via their website. I was fortunate to participate in their capacity building academy, where I learned about the Executive Fellowship Program. I was captivated by the impact of the program on leaders of Legal Aid organizations. I was excited to join an innovative program, focused on sustainability of healthy non-profits.

What was the topic/question you covered in your Executive Fellowship Capstone Project?

My capstone project question was: How might Wage Justice Center address the cost of staff turnover in its five-year budget to accurately reflect the cost and better prepare its financial standing? The capstone project research taught me that the legal aid sector is experiencing an ongoing trend with reoccurring staff turnover. The program taught me that healthy non-profits learn to manage turnover by understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and making changes to build sustainability. My organization will use the tools and resources from my project to plan and address the inevitable staff turnover cycle. This project helped me connect the dots and taught me that challenges are inevitable, but in order for nonprofits to thrive business and management skills need to be developed.

Can you describe how your work in the Executive Fellowship Program will influence your work at the Wage Justice Center?

I look forward to incorporate the tools and skills learned during the 10 month program. The knowledge acquired will transcend to my organizations leadership, staff, programs, and the clients we serve.

Would you recommend the program to other legal aid leaders in California? If so, why?

Definitely, it connected me with a group of extraordinary legal aid leaders. The investment of time was rewarding. I am grateful to the entire One Justice team. The program energized me and taught me skills and tools to share with my organizations to continue empowering our work and clients. The program challenged my personal limiting leadership beliefs, and rewarded me with a new mindset that I can be the next generation of diverse leaders in legal services.