After nearly six weeks on strike, members of the Legal Services Staff Association, NOLSW/UAW Local 2320 (LSSA) Monday approved a contract that allows the employees of Legal Services NYC (LSNYC) to return to work representing New York City’s low-income communities.
Employees successfully defended health care and retirement benefits that management had sought to slash, and won new terms meant to protect unionized employees in the event of future layoffs. Such “layoff equity” protections require that any significant layoffs be fair and reasonable with respect to their impact on union members. These protections are particularly important considering the organization’s poor and costly 1:3 citywide ratio of management to staff.
“This is a significant victory for the union, employees, and low-income New Yorkers,” said Aisha Baruni, a Staff Attorney at the organization’s Queens office. “These new layoff equity terms ensure that this organization will continue to employ and retain committed staff to represent this city’s low-income families and the elderly.”
The contract, which will run retroactively from July 1, 2012 through July 31, 2014, maintains employees’ current salary scales and retirement benefits. The parties also agreed to a 1% salary contribution to health care premiums, to be paid by both management and staff, and a joint committee to study potential future health care savings.
“Maintaining these benefits ensures that our attorneys, paralegals, and staff will be able to pursue careers at Legal Services NYC and provide high-quality services to New York City’s most vulnerable populations,” said Evelyn Falcon, an Executive Secretary at LSNYC’s Brooklyn office.
During the nearly six-week strike, employees received support from organized labor, community groups, former clients, and elected officials throughout the five boroughs. The New York City Council (led by Speaker Christine Quinn) and New York City’s Congressional delegation stood firmly with the workers, demanding that LSNYC management negotiate an end to the strike. Clients and community groups likewise called for a fair contract for the advocates who provide critical legal representation for New York City’s low-income communities.
Membership overwhelmingly approved the new contract, but remain concerned about possible future demands from the organization’s leadership when the new agreement expires, particularly considering the extreme positions taken by management that precipitated the organization's first strike in nearly 20 years. LSNYC also took the unprecedented step of cutting off health care retroactively and without notice to workers. Meanwhile, the past several years have seen a drastic reduction in the number of front-line staff providing direct legal services to low-income New York City residents, and the closure of neighborhood offices in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn.
“We will keep fighting to make this the best possible organization it can be,” said Kristen Drumm, a Senior Attorney with Legal Services NYC-Bronx. “This strike is thankfully over, but we remain committed to New York City’s low-income communities for the long term.”