July 30, 2019
Our union and LSNYC management have long struggled over which staff can properly be assigned to do intake. Our union has always argued that intake is a specific job that takes specialized training and expertise, and which should be done by intake paralegals, intake officers, and hotline paralegals. LSNYC management, though, has often tried to assign intake to many other staff members, including case-handling paralegals (LSAs), secretaries, and attorneys.
In our last round of bargaining which concluded in February 2018, we successfully negotiated an agreement that intake and the associated data entry would normally be done only by intake officers, intake paralegals, and hotline paralegals. This resolved a dispute that had been ongoing for many years.
Simultaneously, we made a significant compromise with management and agreed that case handlers could be assigned to do intake off-site. This was also a dispute that had been ongoing for years. In making this agreement, we had extensive conversations at the bargaining table about how the case-handler would be able to use their professional judgment about whether and when it was appropriate to do the intake on paper rather than on Legal Server. Sometimes there are time or technology impediments, and sometimes typing on a computer damages the rapport you are trying to build with a new client. We emphasized at the bargaining table that it was crucial for the case-handler to have the discretion to use their professional judgment about whether to use Legal Server to enter the data, and that this was fundamental to the agreement we were making.
The language we negotiated, CBA section 14.3(K), states:
It is normally expected that Legal Server intake and associated data entry, including uploading of retainers, citizenship attestations, and other such documents, is done by intake officers, intake paralegals, and hotline paralegals. It is not expected that non-intake staff will be assigned intake duties on a regular basis. This does not apply to offsite intake. It is understood that in some circumstances case handlers may collect information on paper. In those situations, the case handler may provide the information later to intake staff for entry into Legal Server.
Within one week of members ratifying this and other changes to the contract in February 2018, management in the LSNYC Bronx program turned around and announced that housing staff doing off-site intake would be required to do intake using Legal Server at CASA and other off-site locations.
Our union filed a grievance and challenged this with the Bronx Project Director and the LSNYC Executive Director, and ultimately had to file for arbitration. During the 1.5 year wait in getting to arbitration, LSNYC continued to implement their directive that staff must use Legal Server at off-site locations. Any staff member who collected intake information on paper instead of the computer put themselves at risk of being second-guessed by management and potentially disciplined. At each step, LSNYC management continued to refuse to allow staff to use their professional judgment about when it was appropriate or necessary to collect intake information on paper, instead requiring that management be the gatekeeper to decide when and whether this would be allowed.
Finally, the day before our arbitration date, and 1.5 years after reaching an agreement on the initial contract provision, LSNYC agreed to respect the professional judgment of staff to make decisions about when it is appropriate or necessary to collect intake information on paper rather than Legal Server. The new language, which modifies 14.3(K) in the contract, states:
Generally, Legal Server is preferred for offsite intake. However, when performing offsite intake, case handlers are permitted to collect information on paper when:
There are too many clients to allow sufficient time to enter the information into Legal Server; or
Technological problems (internet access, glitchy connections, etc.) make the use of Legal Server unworkable or onerous; or
There is a good faith basis, in the professional judgment of the casehandler, that particular circumstances during intake, including but not limited to the needs of the client, render the use of Legal Server unworkable or onerous.
This language confirms that any LSNYC casehandlers who are doing off-site intake may collect information on paper for any of the above reasons. In addition to the time and technology impediments in (1) and (2), the language in (3) is explicit that the casehandler may gather information on paper instead of entering it into Legal Server whenever in the casehandler’s professional judgment it is in the best interests of the client.