The 400+ members of the Legal Services Staff Association (LSSA) working at Legal Services NYC (LSNYC) voted on February 13, 2018 to ratify a new union contract. The contract is retroactive to July 1, 2017 and will run for three years.
Union and management negotiated salary increases of 3% retroactive to July 1, 2017, 2% effective July 1, 2018, and an additional 2% on July 1, 2019. In recognition of the lower salaries and smaller increases that many non-attorney staff receive, staff on the lowest five salary scales will also receive a $1,000 bonus in their next paycheck.
LSNYC and the LSSA can together be proud of the significant improvements that we have made to employee benefits and to working conditions that will enhance client services.
LSNYC has experienced unprecedented growth in the past several years, largely driven by New York City’s commitment to expanding legal representation for New York City’s low-income tenants. Responding to this triple-digit recent hiring, LSNYC has agreed to dramatically expand its educational loan reimbursement program, more than doubling it from $88,000 per year to $200,000/year, and expanding the eligibility to any union members with educational loans related to their job. This program helps make it possible for staff with educational debt to take jobs in the public service.
Our members have been working an increasing amount of nights and weekends in order to more effectively serve clients. The union contract ratified today will ensure that paralegals and other staff eligible for overtime are paid for the overtime they work and do not have their schedules forcibly changed to avoid accruing overtime. Any members working nights or weekends will be eligible for larger amounts of meal reimbursement and for assistance with childcare or eldercare expenses.
To address the need for qualified supervisors, LSNYC agreed to immediately roll out a program for training and mentoring supervisors, and to support and get feedback from new staff.
The 2018 implementation of New York State’s Paid Family Leave Act allowed us to expand parental leave by two to four weeks over the next three years without increasing the cost to LSNYC. Effective immediately, new staff are eligible for 8 weeks of parental leave, while staff who have been at LSNYC for three years are eligible for 12 weeks. By 2020, new staff will be eligible for 10 weeks and longer-time staff will be eligible for 14 weeks of parental leave.
LSSA and LSNYC have long been on the forefront of fighting for equity for LGBTQ staff. In this contract, we created a fund to help staff pay for adoptions and surrogacy, supplementing LSNYC’s existing support for those who create families through IVF and similar assisted technologies. LSNYC immediately announced it will also be offering this new benefit to its management staff, as well as offering managers their own educational loan reimbursement fund, demonstrating how a union helps to improve benefits for all, even for those who are not union members.
This union contract also moved our workplace towards greater equity in other ways. We eliminated the more favorable treatment that attorneys and social workers receive in areas like titles and in ability to set their own schedules or work remotely, and expanded our existing sexual harassment policy to address all types of discrimination and harassment.
During this time of tremendous expansion, we fought to create a place for the union in the grant application process, to guarantee that sufficient numbers of support staff are hired, and to ensure that if layoffs ever become necessary that it is not just union members who will be laid off. Despite a letter from the New York City Council urging LSNYC to hire support staff and not just predominantly attorneys, LSNYC refused to agree to these demands, which will remain important issues in future rounds of bargaining.
We are proud of the progress we have made in this contract in addressing workplace conditions, improving supervision, and strengthening employee benefits. These improvements will help LSNYC retain staff and will support staff in providing excellent client services to low-income New Yorkers.