The Bronx and Brooklyn Defender Services achieved a major victory in their desire to unionize.
In a 207-83 vote, non-managerial workers voted to join the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA) – UAW Local 2325 in its attempt to bargain for what they believe would be a fairer and stronger contract.
The news is the culmination of a year-long effort to get colleagues to sign cards indicating their support of organizing workers.
“Continuing to organize and unionize workers at public defense offices will only improve the working conditions and the services we provide to our client,” stated Lisa Ohta, president of the Association of the Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325. “Five out of the six trial-level public defense offices in New York City have now courageously formed unions to change the playing field for public defenders. We are so excited to welcome the BDS Union as the newest chapter of ALAA.”
Rebecca Givan, president of the Rutgers AAUP-AFT representing graduate workers, faculty, postdocs and other at Rutgers University, took to social media expressing her approval of the vote considering the reputation of the two groups.
“People used to talk about Brooklyn Defenders and Bronx Defenders as scabs because they were non-union attorneys doing the same legal aid workers,” tweeted Givan. “Now, they’re all unionized with @bds_union and #BxDUnion!”
Not all legal aid divisions have let their workers vote on whether to form a union. Queens Defenders Executive Director Lori Zeno has taken a loud anti-union stance and even fired two people on staff for expressing their desires to join ALAA. Zeno’s group was formed in the mid-1990s during the Rudolph Giuliani administration. In response to Legal Aid lawyers going on strike at the time, the then mayor handed out contracts to newly-formed non-union public defender services.
As recently as last December, Queens Defender staffers signed cards letting Zeno know that they were interested in joining ALAA-UWA Local 232. Zeno and company refused to recognize them.
For the Bronx and Brooklyn Defender Services, however, it’s onward towards a new contract.
“It is very inspiring to see an overwhelming majority of my colleagues come together to affirm that we can make BDS an even better workplace so that we can even better serve our clients,” Andrew Lyubarsky, attorney in the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project. “This tremendous victory through the collective action of our colleagues across roles and practice areas epitomizes the spirit of public defense—that all of us are needed, that every voice is vital, as we work toward a more just society.”
The Brooklyn Defender Services’ Twitter page encapsulated the news in one sentence.
“The staff at BDS have spoken!!!”