January 14, 2016
The Legal Services Staff Association, UAW/NOLSW 2320, is a union of progressive workers. We represent the non-management employees of Legal Services NYC and MFY, two New York City nonprofits that provide free civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers.
As workers, we help secure New York City as a vibrant and diverse home for working and low-income people. We fight for our clients against displacement by eviction and foreclosure; against exploitative employers; for access to government benefits and subsidies; for educational services to which their children are entitled; and more.
As union members, we engage in principled labor struggles to promote a safe and just workplace, to fight for respect from our employers, to demand justice for our lowest paid and most vulnerable colleagues, and to advance policies that encourage and reward a career in legal services. And as determined social justice advocates, we stand unified and committed to further social and economic justice in the lives of our clients and in the communities in which we all live. We chose careers in legal services because we believe in our collective ability to dismantle the systemic injustices that our clients confront each day.
It is with that deeply-rooted commitment to social and economic justice in mind that the Legal Services Staff Association publicly announces its support for the following political priorities that are instrumental to the struggle for equality and social justice: the principles of racial justice, labor rights and workers’ rights, anti-displacement and anti-gentrification, and LGBTQ rights.
Our union stands in solidarity with community-based movements that aim to eradicate systems of racial privilege and oppression. We aim to identify and dismantle racial injustice as it exists in society writ large, in our legal services organizations, and in our union. We also aim to critically examine the role that legal services organizations play in the fight for racial justice and the ways in which the provision of legal services can have the unintended consequences of perpetuating racial inequity and exclusion, if not done through the prism of an anti-racism lens and mindset.
Racial justice requires leadership and accountability, not just from our governments and elected officials, but also from all of us: ourselves and our families, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and employers. As legal workers dedicated to racial justice, it is incumbent on all of us to demand an end to the disproportionate rates of police violence, arrest, and incarceration that affect communities of color, and an end to heightened barriers to employment, safe housing, good schools, decent healthcare, and flourishing neighborhoods that affect people of color across this country.
Racial justice also requires that we acknowledge the ways in which race and privilege color our experiences each day. It requires an examination of the ways in which racial inequity and oppression directly impact the lives of our clients and the ways in which implicit racial bias operates in our society and drives attacks on policies that seek to remedy racial inequality.
For these reasons we stand with Black Lives Matter and other racial justice movements that work toward ending the ongoing oppression and mistreatment of people of color in our city and country.
LABOR RIGHTS & WORKERS’ RIGHTS
We live in an era where the unionized worker has become an endangered species. Although almost 25% of New York State residents are union members, union members comprise only about 11% of workers nationwide, and less than 7% of private sector employees. As one of the first unions of white-collar legal services workers nationwide, we at the Legal Services Staff Association recognize the importance of expanding union rights to non-traditional workplaces. We also recognize that unionization increases the average wages for workers of color, and protects against unilateral, retaliatory, and discriminatory acts by employers, helping to ensure job stability and continuity.
We therefore stand in solidarity with the Fight for 15, a nationwide movement that is fighting for a $15 minimum wage and the right to join a union for all fast food workers. We are also supporters of the Brandworkers, immigrant workers in the food production sector whose fight for justice has resulted in better working conditions and substantial financial awards for unpaid wages. These member-led movements are empowering communities and changing the national conversation about the minimum wage and the rights of workers.
ANTI-DISPLACEMENT & NEIGHBORHOOD PRESERVATION
New York City is in the midst of rapid gentrification causing serious harm to low-income people and communities of color as individuals and families are displaced from their longtime homes, neighborhoods are fractured, and City residents are divested of valuable real estate while wealthy developers and corporations realize major economic gains.
As legal services workers, we have a long history of fighting displacement by representing our clients in housing court and foreclosure proceedings and working to stop abusive and predatory practices by landlords, banks, and other financial institutions. As a union and as residents of New York City, we believe that economic development and investment in housing and infrastructure must be directed toward building vibrant healthy communities for all NYC residents, not only for the affluent. By working in partnership and solidarity with community groups fighting gentrification and displacement, we aim to build and maintain diverse and prosperous neighborhoods in our city, ensuring neighborhoods where our clients and our families can both live and thrive.
We have therefore signed on to support the Homes for All and Real Affordability for All, campaigns which aim to stem homelessness and create real housing affordability for the lowest income New Yorkers. We have also signed on to support the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, a group fighting against the development of sky rises and luxury housing in communities of color in Chinatown and the Lower East Side.
GENDER AND SEXUALITY JUSTICE
Following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which guaranteed the right of same-sex couples to marry, many mistakenly believed that this country had finally turned the page on discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. Disappointingly, not even days passed before stories lit up mainstream media about legislators, municipal officials, and even judges who rallied against the mandate of the Supreme Court and pledged to see its undoing. But same-sex marriage is just the tip of the iceberg, and is far from the last necessary fight for LGBTQ rights.
The low-income New Yorkers our members represent in legal proceedings face much more dire survival issues than marriage. Many are denied jobs because they identify or are perceived as LGBTQ, or are forced to be closeted. They face discrimination at the city, state, and federal government agencies that are supposed to serve them equally. Discrimination and violence based on gender identity or gender expression is rampant. People who are transgender or gender nonconforming are disproportionately likely to face discrimination or violence at school, in the workplace, and in sex-segregated facilities like bathrooms, shelters, and jails. As workers, we fight for the equal rights of our clients. And as union members, we fight for our own equal rights.
LSSA has a long history of supporting LGBTQ workers. In 1993, LSSA fought for and won domestic partner benefits for Legal Services NYC employees. This extended health insurance coverage to an employee’s same-sex partner and children, and provided for bereavement, sick leave, and parental leave rights. LSSA’s success in gaining domestic partner benefits preceded the passage of New York City’s Domestic Partnership Law by five years.
More recently, LSSA ensured that Legal Services NYC added protection against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression to its list of protected categories. LSSA has also joined with a coalition calling on Governor Cuomo to support the passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and thanking the governor for confirming that the state Human Rights Law protects transgender and gender-non conforming New Yorkers. These laws will help ensure that LGBTQ people have protections against discrimination in workplaces, schools, sex-segregated facilities, and more.
We at the Legal Services Staff Association are proud to announce our collective commitment to working towards racial justice, labor rights and workers’ rights, anti-displacement and anti-gentrification, and LGBTQ rights.