The Legal Services Staff Association in 2016

As a union, we work to support issues that affect our clients, communities, and fellow working people. This year our delegates assembly voted on political priorities — racial justice, workers rights and economic justice, anti-displacement and neighborhood preservation, and LGBTQ justice — to guide our political efforts now and in the future. Among other initiatives this year, we started collaborations with city and national coalitions like the Fight for Fifteen and the Homes for All and Real Affordability for All campaigns. Our union walked the picket line with striking Verizon workers every week, and we protested police violence against people of color. Our president traveled to New Hampshire to get out the vote for the Democratic Primary, to Detroit as a representative for the UAW’s national advisory council on civil and human rights, to Yale to speak to law students, and to upstate New York to support the workers at Honeywell, who have been locked-out of their jobs by their employer.

In 2016, we have seen that our employers are receiving historic levels of funding and are doing unprecedented hiring. As a union, we’ve engaged this year in conversation about how our organizations can grow responsibly and how we can ensure that everyone gets the training, support, and resources needed to do our jobs, and we did trainings for delegates to give delegates in each office the tools they need to represent and defend our members.

Funding for our organizations is somewhat variable and occasionally unpredictable. Both LSNYC and MFY almost lost a significant city grant this year — the Immigrant Opportunities Initiative — and our union was able to quickly marshal the support of our region of the UAW to sign on to a letter to the City Council. Within a few days, more than a half million dollars in funding was restored. This allowed both LSNYC and MFY to protect the jobs of staff immigration advocates who will continue providing vital services to immigrant communities around New York City. We will continue to do whatever is necessary to protect our funding and jobs: from lobbying our elected officials to harnessing the power of our influential national union.

Similarly, when we learned that the Immigrant Justice Corps fellowship program planned to radically change their fellowship program, stripping fellows of union rights and protections, our union led the response and mobilized the Legal Aid attorneys union, the Urban Justice Center union, our parent union the National Organization of Legal Services Workers, and Region 9A of the UAW. The Immigrant Justice Corps program quickly backed down and agreed that fellows would remain on staff at LSNYC and receive the appropriate union salary and benefits.

In March, a group of our members to travel to Albany to lobby with the UAW on progressive issuesHalf of our group were non-attorneys and most were new members. We met with dozens of state senators and members of the state assembly, and talked with them about the need to pass a $15 minimum wage, paid family medical leave, and more. We are proud to make these opportunities available to all of our members to get involved in our political process and make our voices heard. To encourage more members to participate, we also shot a video showing what lobbying looks like.

We had two arbitrations this year: one on behalf of a long-time African-American staff attorney who we believe was unfairly targeted and terminated, and one to bring the comptroller assistant position at MFY within the bargaining unit. We did city-wide actions in support of the senior staff attorney leading up to his arbitration, including a surprise appearance at a LSNYC Board meeting to speak out against the harassment and targeting of our senior staff members. We were able to reach a mutually-agreeable settlement to resolve the arbitration, but remain vigilant about targeting of our senior members.

Our union has continually pushed and educated LSNYC management to make financially prudent decisions and improve LSNYC’s retirement program, first by improving our investment options, and this year by searching for a new retirement provider. With our input, LSNYC made a smart decision to switch retirement providers. In another joint labor-management committee, we also for the first time persuaded LSNYC management to explicitly support staff member input into the evaluations of Project Directors, which are conducted by the office’s Board of Directors.  At the union’s initiative, a decision was made to encourage each Board to solicit meaningful feedback from staff in the office rather than rely solely on staff contacts provided by the project director. A uniform list of stakeholder groups whose feedback will be solicited will also be generated, so that evaluations of PDs can be standardized across the boroughs.

It’s not all serious business, though! To help us all get to know each other across offices and shops, this year the union started holding monthly social events that are hosted by all of our shops on a rotating basis. We also do other fun social events every year: we had a packed and raucous holiday party this past winter, held a group outing to Coney Island for a Cyclones game, and are fielding a union softball team for the second year in a row. Go, Strikers!

To our members: thank you for being a part of our union.