January 14, 2015
The Legal Services Staff Association bargaining team for the Legal Services NYC union staff addressed the Legal Services NYC Board of Directors two days before the deadline for a contract offer.
LSSA President Amy Hammersmith addressed the union’s demand for fair wages that compensate members for the lack of raises in the last contract.
“In the last contract negotiation, LSNYC projected the organization was facing serious deficits. As a result, union members gave serious concessions. We’ve essentially gone without raises since the last contract. People are feeling this. We are losing ground against comparable organizations, and we are losing ground against inflation, the cost of gas, the cost of milk, and the cost of housing.”
After refusing to give union staff salary increases in the last contract, “LSNYC turned around and rewarded themselves with raises that averaged 5.8% per manager. In dollar figures, that’s approximately $6,000 per manager. Those managers who have been here for 20 years or more: if they had been in the bargaining unit, they would have gotten no raises, but only a $1500 bonus” which does not increase base pay.
Hammersmith explained that LSNYC management’s dire predictions of financial catastrophe were off by millions of dollars. It turns out LSNYC has $10 million more in revenue and working capital now than it had predicted in 2013 that it would have. Hammersmith told the board that now that LSNYC has money, union members should be compensated for the sacrifices they’ve made.
LSNYC has spent much of its massive influx of funding to hire new staff, of whom over 75% are attorneys. More than 10% of the rest are administrative staff in the central administrative office, who provide no direct support for clients. The small remainder are support staff, who are feeling the effect of the dwindling ratio of support staff to attorneys. Hammersmith noted that LSNYC refuses to make a commitment to hire enough support staff to support the client services provided in the neighborhood offices, nor to offer any meaningful protections against layoffs for support staff.
Instead, LSNYC is demanding that support staff job descriptions be melted down, combining intake, reception, secretarial, accounting, client advocacy, and more, so that in any given day virtually any support staff can be assigned to any of these tasks. Hammersmith cautioned that union members are understandably upset about and resistant to this proposal. Further, “in the event of layoffs, our members need to see that there is parity and that our support staff, and bargaining unit staff in general, won’t bear the brunt of it.”
LSNYC recently announced that it plans to cut off health insurance if the union goes on strike. Hammersmith asked the Board to “not repeat past mistakes. The threats to terminate health care in the event of a strike ignites anger in our members.”
Bargaining team member Mary McCune reminded the LSNYC Board that terminating health care and forcing the union out on strike by failing to offer a fair contract was damaging to LSNYC’s reputation in 2013, and would be further damaging if it happened again a mere 19 months later.
The union bargaining team noted that it has been working very hard to get to a contract that is fair for both union members and LSNYC. The union has made significant concessions, but the two parties are still far apart.
The bargaining deadline is in two days. It is time for LSNYC to put a fair contract on the table.