November 09, 2018
Contact: Steven Cole

WJCNY Announces Retirement of Longtime Farmworker Advocate, Lewis Papenfuse, Welcomes Lauren Deutsch as New Executive Director


Rochester, NY – Lewis Papenfuse, Executive Director of the Worker Justice Center of New York (WJCNY), will be retiring from his position on December 7, 2018 after 26 years of dedicated service to the organization. WJCNY was created in 2011 through the merger of Farmworker Legal Services of New York (FLSNY) and the Workers’ Rights Law Center and is now the leading provider of non-profit legal assistance for farmworkers and low-wage workers in Upstate New York. The organization serves over 5,000 low-wage workers annually from offices located in Rochester, Kingston, and Hawthorne.

Mr. Papenfuse first joined the staff of Farmworker Legal Services of New York in 1993. For over a decade, he worked tirelessly to support the organization’s litigation efforts while coordinating outreach and training programs for farmworkers throughout the region. He served as Supervising Paralegal for five years and as president of the FLSNY’s staff union, represented by the National Organization of Legal Services Workers, UAW Local 2320, for seven years. In 2004, Papenfuse became Co-Director of FLSNY together with Jim Schmidt  and, in 2007, assumed the position of Executive Director upon Mr. Schmidt’s retirement. In 2011, Papenfuse led the merger process that established the Worker Justice Center of New York, serving initially as Co-Director from 2011-2014, together with Milan Bhatt, and then as Executive Director from 2014-2018. Under his leadership, WJCNY has tripled in size and become a powerful force for advancing worker justice in New York State.

During his tenure as Executive Director, Mr. Papenfuse has led with integrity, humility, and a staunch commitment to uphold the organization’s core values of equality, justice, and worker empowerment. Throughout his career, Papenfuse has advocated to improve labor protections for farmworkers and other immigrant workers, both at the state and federal levels. In 2009, Mr. Papenfuse was invited to speak at a state legislative hearing on the rights of farmworkers and, in 2015-2016, served on the advisory committee of  New York State’s Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation. In 2017, Rural and Migrant Ministry honored Papenfuse at their Harvesting Justice Symposium, presenting him with the Jim Schmidt Award in recognition of his years of service and tireless advocacy.  

Steve Cole, WJCNY’s Board President, attests that “Lew’s transformational leadership of the Worker Justice Center has ensured that its vital mission to protect the rights of immigrants and disadvantaged workers will continue to be fulfilled long into the future. His low-key style belies a vision and determination that guided the Worker Justice Center to tremendous growth and success.” 

Coinciding with Mr. Papenfuse’s retirement, WJCNY has hired Lauren S. Deutsch, Esq. to assume the role of Executive Director. Ms. Deutsch brings ten years of skilled non-profit leadership experience to WJCNY. She has been a lifelong advocate for social justice and equality with a strong commitment to helping vulnerable and at-risk populations. Deutsch is joining the organization following four years as the Executive Director of Healthy Baby Network, a non-profit focusing on vulnerable mothers and families to provide every baby the opportunity to be born healthy.

Prior to her involvement with Healthy Baby Network, Deutsch was a Domestic Violence Staff Attorney with The Legal Aid Society of Western New York. She has represented over 300 clients in high conflict divorce and custody matters, as well as securing orders of protection and qualified domestic relations orders. Deutsch earned her Juris Doctor from The Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and holds a B.A. in religion and biblical literature from Smith College in Massachusetts. She is a Berkeley, California native and began working as an advocate for family and women’s health at a free clinic on the U.S.-Mexico border just before law school. WJCNY’s staff and board are eager to welcome Ms. Deutsch to the organization. Says Deutsch, "The Worker Justice Center has been leading the fight for human dignity in labor since 1981. I am humbled by the opportunity to continue that fight, with the talented and dedicated WJCNY team."