STAFF AT ASIAN AMERICANS FOR EQUALITY ANNOUNCE UNION DRIVE

New York, NY — Staff members at the Asian Americans For Equality (AAFE) today announced their intent to join the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325. AAFE is based in multiple locations in Queens and Manhattan Chinatown.  The 20 staff members, who are primarily social service caseworkers, provide immigration advice, health care navigation, and youth, college and job development advice, and tenant assistance. AAFE staff expressed their desire to avoid a lengthy National Labor Relations Board election, and instead begin directly bargaining with management immediately.

On Friday afternoon, staff members from each of AAFE’s offices stood up at a company-wide town hall and announced their intent to unionize. An overwhelming majority of AAFE staff members have signed cards to show their support for unionization. The staff members’ concerns include fair compensation, transparency and accountability, benefits and staff investment, and client justice. The staff also hope to encourage changes to case staffing that maximize AAFE’s ability to advocate for clients, as the organization grows to meet surging demand for its services.  

“We love AAFE and we wish to be part of the AAFE family for as long as possible” said Lillian Cheung, Immigration Counselor at the Flushing Office.  “In order to show respect to the staff, AAFE should take care of us.” 

“We are forming a union because we deserve better compensation and our clients deserve the best possible services” said Avigail Aviles, Tenant Counselor at the Jackson Heights office.

“Since I’ve worked here, we have had consistent staff turnover which severely impacts the quality of our work and programs” said Jessie Ngok, Office of New Americans Navigator at the Flushing office. “We need pay and benefits that are sustainable and support our growth.”

“We may be on Division Street but we are not divided” said Kenny Chen, Program Manager at the Division Street Office in Chinatown.  “We want more accountability and transparency from AAFE.”

“We enthusiastically welcome Asians Americans for Equality to join the thousands of non-profit and legal services workers around the country in our union family.  Just as AAFE staff fight every day for the communities that they come from, they deserve to stand up for themselves to create a better workplace. Unionization in direct services non-profits is not only critical to the empowerment of union members, but to the improvement of client representation,” said Jared Trujillo, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325. “We call on AAFE management to immediately recognize the overwhelming desire of its employees to join together in a union.”

AAFE’s union drive comes at a time of intensified organizing to improve working conditions for public service professionals, who are often compensated significantly less than their private-sector counterparts. Workers from other nonprofit legal service providers, such as Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, WEACT for Environmental Justice, New York Legal Assistance Group, and CAMBA Legal Services, have recently won union recognition. 

If their union is recognized, the staff members of AAFE will join the 1,500 members of ALAA who are employed at the New York Legal Assistance Group, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, The Legal Aid Society of New York City, Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, Federal Defenders of New York, The Legal Aid Society of Orange County, Youth Represent, and CAMBA Legal Services.  ALAA – UAW Local 2325 is the nation’s oldest union of attorneys and legal workers.

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1199/ALAA Solidarity Resolution

Be it understood that both unions, ALAA & 1199, representing the attorney and non-attorney staff respectively, stand in solidarity with each other during contract negotiations with the employer, The Legal Aid Society. The cleaving of Legal Aid Society legal workers into two different unions stands apart from the norm of legal workers who are represented wall-to-wall in a single union. This has contributed to stark differences, for instance, a comparison of wage scales across legal aid providers in New York City, particularly with those that are wall-to-wall unions, shows that Legal Aid are among the lowest paid workers. As such, we must actively overcome the obstacles of being in two different unions and resist management’s further efforts to divide us by standing together so that we all get the wages and rights we deserve.

LAS non-attorney staff have been left behind more than a decade ago in their wages and benefits in comparison to non-attorney staff at other legal aid providers in New York City. LAS also continues to under pay its attorney staff, particularly the younger staff which are among the lowest paid for all legal services. However, we are currently in a unique position, as the city has committed to pay parity with corp counsel which presents a new opportunity to increase the wages and benefits of all workers at LAS. This will begin to get us at an adequate level of compensation.

For the successful achievement of each union’s contract proposals, for the support of ALAA’s & 1199’s Negotiation Committees in their negotiations with LAS, the strongest of solidarity between the two unions is necessary. To this end, we agree that we will actively campaign and stand in solidarity with our partner union, as well as establish a joint 1199/ALAA committee to coordinate actions and efforts between the two unions to ensure each union gets the best contract possible. We understand that our working conditions are intertwined with our partner union and that solidarity between our unions is critical in achieving a fair contract for both of our unions.

Statement on the Firing of Officer Pantaleo

“Our client Eric Garner was choked to death on camera, in broad daylight, surrounded by police officers. It is outrageous that Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD took five years to fire Officer Pantaleo and that the other involved officers remain a part of the NYPD today. To this day, our client Ramsey Orta, remains behind bars in retaliation for his brave documentation of Officer Pantaleo’s murder of Eric Garner. Our union’s 1,500 attorneys and legal support staff unfortunately know first-hand that justice is not dispensed equally in our city. We will continue to stand in solidarity with our clients and communities, fighting for their rights in court and to hold all members of law enforcement accountable for their actions.”

300 New Legal Services Workers Join ALAA in the First Half of 2019

With the amazing and inspiring campaigns and victories of A Better NYLAG and NDS Union, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW 2325 has organized more than 300 new members to join our union in just the first half of 2019.  Legal Services workers at the New York Legal Assistance Group and Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem each voted by a more than 80% margin to join the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325.  The election of NDS workers represents the first alternate provider of criminal defense in New York City to unionize following their creation in the early 1990s.

These hundreds of attorneys and advocates are re-shaping the entire indigent legal services industry and refocusing the message on one simple truth: our working conditions impact our clients’ access to justice. In our case, collective bargaining is not just a tool to improve the lives of the workers of each organization, but also to vastly improve the lives of the most marginalized New Yorkers. When legal services workers come together, non-union or union, engaged in criminal, civil, family, immigration, or other practice, we are capable of shifting the entire terrain on which our clients navigate the legal system. Those who work at a unionized organization can tell you of the amazing difference it makes to them and to their clients, when retention, workload, resources, and job security are prioritized.

A great example of this has been the implementation of Universal Access to Counsel in Housing Court which was achieved through the amazing advocacy of the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. After the victory of NYLAG employees, between our union and the Legal Services Staff Association, NOLSW/UAW Local 2320 NOLSW, UAW Local 2320, the overwhelming majority of workers at organizations performing this crucial work and guaranteeing legal representation in housing court as a right, are members of the UAW International Union. This allows us to demand the highest standard of zealous representation from both our managements across the city and from our funders.

Our union is here to fight for our clients, in the courts and in the streets, through collective bargaining and mass mobilization, until we obtain equal justice. As our union continues to grow, united deeply with our client communities, we will only be able to further amplify our voice, rejecting division and competition between organizations, to push for a better future.