With the amazing and inspiring campaigns and victories of A Better NYLAG and NDS Union, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW 2325 has organized more than 300 new members to join our union in just the first half of 2019. Legal Services workers at the New York Legal Assistance Group and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem each voted by a more than 80% margin to join the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325. The election of NDS workers represents the first alternate provider of criminal defense in New York City to unionize following their creation in the early 1990s.
These hundreds of attorneys and advocates are re-shaping the entire indigent legal services industry and refocusing the message on one simple truth: our working conditions impact our clients’ access to justice. In our case, collective bargaining is not just a tool to improve the lives of the workers of each organization, but also to vastly improve the lives of the most marginalized New Yorkers. When legal services workers come together, non-union or union, engaged in criminal, civil, family, immigration, or other practice, we are capable of shifting the entire terrain on which our clients navigate the legal system. Those who work at a unionized organization can tell you of the amazing difference it makes to them and to their clients, when retention, workload, resources, and job security are prioritized.
A great example of this has been the implementation of Universal Access to Counsel in Housing Court which was achieved through the amazing advocacy of the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. After the victory of NYLAG employees, between our union and the Legal Services Staff Association, NOLSW/UAW Local 2320 NOLSW, UAW Local 2320, the overwhelming majority of workers at organizations performing this crucial work and guaranteeing legal representation in housing court as a right, are members of the UAW International Union. This allows us to demand the highest standard of zealous representation from both our managements across the city and from our funders.
Our union is here to fight for our clients, in the courts and in the streets, through collective bargaining and mass mobilization, until we obtain equal justice. As our union continues to grow, united deeply with our client communities, we will only be able to further amplify our voice, rejecting division and competition between organizations, to push for a better future.