UAW 2325, UAW 2320 and 1199SEIU Staff at Legal Services Organizations Call on Mayor De Blasio to Fund Equitable Wages  

City Hall – On November 13, 2019, the public defenders, civil legal service attorneys, social workers, paralegals, and core staff of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (UAW Local 2325), The Legal Services Staff Association (UAW Local 2320), and 1199SEIU rallied on the steps of City Hall to call on the City to fund equitable salaries for all of their members. The three unions represent thousands of legal workers at a dozen non-profits in New York.  

The wage disparity between attorneys at the legal services providers and the attorneys that represent the City in the Law Department is significant and long-standing. This disparity forces approximately one-third of attorneys to work second jobs to survive, and nearly half to leave before their tenth year of service in pursuit of higher wages. 

While the City committed to a four year plan to close the wage gap for attorneys, the unions say that the City’s plan does not go far enough to provide funding that would guarantee a just implementation for all attorneys, and that it ignores the pay inequities of non-attorney staff.  That underfunding has been particularly devastating for the lowest paid legal workers, like 1199SEIU members at The Legal Aid Society who have gone 7 out of the last 11 contract years with no raises. The stagnant wages of non-attorney staff and legal advocates have fallen far behind the cost of living in the City.  In fact, sixty percent of 1199 members at Legal Aid have secondary sources of income to meet basic living expenses, while seventy-four percent are rent-burdened, and eighty-six percent are unsure they can stay in their jobs.

In their statement in June, the Mayor and City Council committed to additional funding to address parity issues and “the historic underfunding of contracts by prior administrations.”  Today, 1199SEIU, ALAA, LSSA challenged the Mayor and the City Council to correct this historic underfunding, fund livable wages, and close their pay gap.

When I took this job at The Legal Aid Society,  I made a commitment to provide legal services to poor and low-income New Yorkers” said Aishah Bruno, Paralegal Casehandler at the Legal Aid Society (1199SEIU) “I never would have imagined that some of our members, including myself, could be a paycheck away from needing government benefits ourselves.”

“This fight for fair wages is a justice issue,” said Jared Trujillo, the President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW Local 2325. “When legal workers leave their organizations because they cannot afford to stay, low-income New Yorkers do not benefit from talented and experienced representation. The City’s refusal to fund parity for all lines, including City Council lines, means that our employers won’t be able to make progress toward parity for all staff.”

“There is a tremendous benefit to our clients when legal workers are able to grow within their positions at their organizations,” said Sonja Shield, President of the Legal Service Staff Association, National Organization of Legal Services Workers – UAW Local 2320. “The City must make an immediate investment in adequately compensating those who have chosen to make a career of serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers through some of their most challenging life circumstances.” ​

“Public defenders and civil legal services advocates are the safety net for thousands of low-income and working class people across New York City, fighting for their clients every day, often under tremendous pressure,” said Vincent Alvarez, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO President. “But many of these advocates, struggling to keep up with the cost of living, find themselves with no choice but to leave the work they love. Increased turnover means that clients and communities are deprived of representation with the experience necessary to navigate complicated legal systems. The NYC CLC calls on the City to ensure a fair justice system by allocating additional funding to fairly compensate workers on the front lines of the fight.”

 

STAFF AT ASIAN AMERICANS FOR EQUALITY ANNOUNCE UNION DRIVE

New York, NY — Staff members at the Asian Americans For Equality (AAFE) today announced their intent to join the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325. AAFE is based in multiple locations in Queens and Manhattan Chinatown.  The 20 staff members, who are primarily social service caseworkers, provide immigration advice, health care navigation, and youth, college and job development advice, and tenant assistance. AAFE staff expressed their desire to avoid a lengthy National Labor Relations Board election, and instead begin directly bargaining with management immediately.

On Friday afternoon, staff members from each of AAFE’s offices stood up at a company-wide town hall and announced their intent to unionize. An overwhelming majority of AAFE staff members have signed cards to show their support for unionization. The staff members’ concerns include fair compensation, transparency and accountability, benefits and staff investment, and client justice. The staff also hope to encourage changes to case staffing that maximize AAFE’s ability to advocate for clients, as the organization grows to meet surging demand for its services.  

“We love AAFE and we wish to be part of the AAFE family for as long as possible” said Lillian Cheung, Immigration Counselor at the Flushing Office.  “In order to show respect to the staff, AAFE should take care of us.” 

“We are forming a union because we deserve better compensation and our clients deserve the best possible services” said Avigail Aviles, Tenant Counselor at the Jackson Heights office.

“Since I’ve worked here, we have had consistent staff turnover which severely impacts the quality of our work and programs” said Jessie Ngok, Office of New Americans Navigator at the Flushing office. “We need pay and benefits that are sustainable and support our growth.”

“We may be on Division Street but we are not divided” said Kenny Chen, Program Manager at the Division Street Office in Chinatown.  “We want more accountability and transparency from AAFE.”

“We enthusiastically welcome Asians Americans for Equality to join the thousands of non-profit and legal services workers around the country in our union family.  Just as AAFE staff fight every day for the communities that they come from, they deserve to stand up for themselves to create a better workplace. Unionization in direct services non-profits is not only critical to the empowerment of union members, but to the improvement of client representation,” said Jared Trujillo, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325. “We call on AAFE management to immediately recognize the overwhelming desire of its employees to join together in a union.”

AAFE’s union drive comes at a time of intensified organizing to improve working conditions for public service professionals, who are often compensated significantly less than their private-sector counterparts. Workers from other nonprofit legal service providers, such as Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, WEACT for Environmental Justice, New York Legal Assistance Group, and CAMBA Legal Services, have recently won union recognition. 

If their union is recognized, the staff members of AAFE will join the 1,500 members of ALAA who are employed at the New York Legal Assistance Group, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, The Legal Aid Society of New York City, Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, Federal Defenders of New York, The Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Youth Represent, and CAMBA Legal Services.  ALAA – UAW Local 2325 is the nation’s oldest union of attorneys and legal workers.

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1199/ALAA Solidarity Resolution

Be it understood that both unions, ALAA & 1199, representing the attorney and non-attorney staff respectively, stand in solidarity with each other during contract negotiations with the employer, The Legal Aid Society. The cleaving of Legal Aid Society legal workers into two different unions stands apart from the norm of legal workers who are represented wall-to-wall in a single union. This has contributed to stark differences, for instance, a comparison of wage scales across legal aid providers in New York City, particularly with those that are wall-to-wall unions, shows that Legal Aid are among the lowest paid workers. As such, we must actively overcome the obstacles of being in two different unions and resist management’s further efforts to divide us by standing together so that we all get the wages and rights we deserve.

LAS non-attorney staff have been left behind more than a decade ago in their wages and benefits in comparison to non-attorney staff at other legal aid providers in New York City. LAS also continues to under pay its attorney staff, particularly the younger staff which are among the lowest paid for all legal services. However, we are currently in a unique position, as the city has committed to pay parity with corp counsel which presents a new opportunity to increase the wages and benefits of all workers at LAS. This will begin to get us at an adequate level of compensation.

For the successful achievement of each union’s contract proposals, for the support of ALAA’s & 1199’s Negotiation Committees in their negotiations with LAS, the strongest of solidarity between the two unions is necessary. To this end, we agree that we will actively campaign and stand in solidarity with our partner union, as well as establish a joint 1199/ALAA committee to coordinate actions and efforts between the two unions to ensure each union gets the best contract possible. We understand that our working conditions are intertwined with our partner union and that solidarity between our unions is critical in achieving a fair contract for both of our unions.

Statement on the Firing of Officer Pantaleo

“Our client Eric Garner was choked to death on camera, in broad daylight, surrounded by police officers. It is outrageous that Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD took five years to fire Officer Pantaleo and that the other involved officers remain a part of the NYPD today. To this day, our client Ramsey Orta, remains behind bars in retaliation for his brave documentation of Officer Pantaleo’s murder of Eric Garner. Our union’s 1,500 attorneys and legal support staff unfortunately know first-hand that justice is not dispensed equally in our city. We will continue to stand in solidarity with our clients and communities, fighting for their rights in court and to hold all members of law enforcement accountable for their actions.”