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.