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.”