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Legal workers strike marches on

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 6/20/2013, 11:24 a.m.

Members of the Legal Services Staff Association (LSSA) and NOLSW/UAW Local 2320 who have gone on strike are still in negotiations with Legal Services NYC--and not much progress has been made.

"Management refused to make any moves and we are back at the table with them tomorrow [Wednesday] morning at 10," said LSSA spokesperson Gibb Surette. "They want structural changes to our health care and we have offered them some, but then they have done nothing to address our needs for structural change that guarantees that some of these jobs that will be saved will be ours, and equity with health care concessions and job security in terms of not using layoffs to worsen the management-to-staff ratio, which the unions claim are three union members for every high-salaried manager.

"They want health care concessions and they insist that a part of those concessions be in the form of plan design changes that would seriously affect those who have serious health problems and are paying the most for health care to begin with and affect those that have the lowest salaries," said Surette. "We have said that if we make concessions, we should spread the pain equally more than that."

Back in May, citing unfair and unjust practices in the workplace, the city's legal workers decided to go on strike for the first time in 20 years after voting to reject offers of a new contract with the management of Legal Services NYC, the legal assistance group that specializes in dealing with low-income communities. While a spokesperson for Legal Services NYC wasn't available to speak with the AmNews before press time, there was a statement on their website detailing their rationale for the contract demands.

"Federal funding to Legal Services NYC is being slashed by more than $8 million annually," read the statement. "Exacerbating these funding cuts, our health insurance costs are the highest among comparable organizations in the city. This combination of funding cuts and high health insurance expenses forced us to reduce staff by 40 people in 2012. Unless we take action to reduce costs now, we will be forced to make many more layoffs by the end of 2014.

"Given these tight financial circumstances, we believe that our offer to the union is responsible to our mission: to save jobs so that we can provide the most services that we can for low-income New Yorkers, and to ensure that our staffs' jobs are competitively compensated."

According to Legal Services NYC, their health plan only covers employees who are in "active service." To Legal Services NYC, active service means workers who are "performing the regular duties of your job on a full-time basis." This means that employees on strike, who aren't in active service, aren't covered by the current contracts.

The LSSA represents secretaries, paralegals, receptionists, process servers, social workers, attorneys and other non-management employees. Their members serve mostly low-income families and the elderly of New York City in civil legal matters like housing, domestic violence, public benefits, immigration, education, family, community economic development, HIV/AIDS and mental health. UAW Local 2320 represents union "justice workers" as well.