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1199 SEIU, UAW Local 2325 UAW Local 2320-Represented Staff At New York City’s Legal Services Organizations Call On Mayor De Blasio To Fund Equitable Wages

Published Wednesday, November 27, 2019
by Alexi Shalom/
1199 SEIU, UAW Local 2325 UAW Local 2320-Represented Staff At New York City’s Legal Services Organizations Call On Mayor De Blasio To Fund Equitable Wages

(NEW YORK CITY) - Public Defenders, Civil Legal Service Attorneys, Social Workers, Paralegals and core Staff of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (UAW Local 2325), the Legal Services Staff Association (UAW Local 2320), and 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) rallied on the steps of New York City Hall earlier this month to call on the City to fund equitable salaries for all of their Members.

The wage disparity between Attorneys at the Legal Services Providers and the Attorneys that represent the City in the Law Department is significant and long-standing, said Representatives of the three Unions that combine to represent thousands of Legal Workers at a dozen non-profits in New York.  This disparity forces approximately one-third of Attorneys to work second jobs to survive and nearly half to leave before their 10th year of service in pursuit of higher wages. 

While the City committed to a four-year plan to close the wage gap for Attorneys, the Unions say the City’s plan does not go far enough to provide funding that would guarantee a just implementation for all Attorneys, and that it ignores the pay inequities of Non-Attorney Staff. 

That underfunding has been particularly devastating for the lowest paid Legal Workers, like 1199 SEIU members at The Legal Aid Society - who have gone seven out of the last 11 contract years with no raises.

The stagnant wages of Non-Attorney Staff and Legal Advocates have fallen far behind the cost of living in the City, Union Officials charge.  In fact, 60% of 1199 SEIU Members at Legal Aid have secondary sources of income to meet basic living expenses, while 74% are rent-burdened and 86% are unsure they can stay in their jobs.

In their statement in June, the Mayor and City Council committed to additional funding to address parity issues and “the historic underfunding of contracts by prior administrations.”

However, 1199 SEIU, the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys and the Legal Services Staff Association all challenged the Mayor and the City Council to correct this historic underfunding, fund livable wages and close their pay gap.

“When I took this job at The Legal Aid Society, ‘I made a commitment to provide legal services to poor and low-income’ New Yorkers” said Aishah Bruno, who works as a Paralegal Case-Handler at the Legal Aid Society.  “I ‘never would have imagined that some of our Members, including myself, could be a paycheck away from needing government benefits ourselves.’”

“This ‘fight for fair wages is a justice issue,’” said Jared Trujillo, who serves as the President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. “When Legal Workers ‘leave their organizations because they cannot afford to stay, low-income New Yorkers do not benefit from talented and experienced representation.’  The City’s ‘refusal to fund parity for all lines, including City Council lines, means that our employers won’t be able to make progress toward parity for all Staff.’”

“There is a ‘tremendous benefit’ to our clients when Legal Workers ‘are able to grow within their positions at their organizations,’” said Sonja Shield, who serves as the President of the Legal Service Staff Association, National Organization of Legal Services Workers. “The City ‘must make an immediate investment in adequately compensating those who have chosen to make a career of serving the most vulnerable New Yorkers through some of their most challenging life circumstances.’” ​

“Public Defenders and Civil Legal Services Advocates ‘are the safety net for thousands of low-income and Working Class People across New York City, fighting for their clients every day, often under tremendous pressure,’” New York City AFL-CIO Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez said. “But ‘many of these advocates, struggling to keep up with the cost of living, find themselves with no choice but to leave the work they love.’  ‘Increased turnover means that clients and communities are deprived of representation with the experience necessary to navigate complicated legal systems.’  The New York City Central Labor Council calls on the City to ensure a fair justice system by allocating additional funding to fairly compensate Workers on the front lines of the fight.’”

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