ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

October 27, 1992

1992.10.27: Presentation to Legal Aid Society Annual Meeting

Presentation to The Legal Aid Society’s Annual Meeting
Michael Letwin
President, Association of Legal Aid Attorneys
October 27, 1992

As you know, the entire Society has experienced tremendous tension and strain in recent months as support staff and attorneys have worked together to achieve fair collective bargaining agreements. Central issues in negotiations include fair wages, decent health benefits, more aggressive affirmative action, the right to healthy and safe working conditions, retention of senior attorneys, and equal benefits for lesbian and gay attorneys.

While we are far from satisfied with the outcome of the contract on many of these issues, we are pleased that this was the first contract in Legal Aid history that was settled at the point of expiration, through a process that brought attorneys and support staff alike into active involvement in the negotiating process.

We were also pleased to have developed a relationship of communication and mutual respect with Board President Michael Iovenko.

Although the failure to fully address any of these issues threatens the quality of representation we are able to provide to indigent clients, our members wish to make you aware that no single issue does so more clearly today than the plague of Tuberculosis.

For many years TB, a low-profile disease of poor people, was ignored by the authorities. The result has been the development of a potentially life-threatening drug-resistant strain affecting hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom are our clients.

Among the most serious TB infection points are the court pens, jails, homeless shelters and other facilities in which we work. This is so not only because of the high rate of infection among our clients, who are not medically screened before we see them, but also because the physical conditions in these facilities are crowded, unventilated and altogether inhumane in nearly every other way. Our often filthy and unventilated offices make conditions there little better.

These conditions pose a direct threat not only to we who are the front line — and many of us have tested positive for TB exposure — but even more so to our clients. The Association, therefore, will pursue immediate, dramatic, and effective action at all levels to address this issue, and we ask you to join us in doing so.

Finally, it is with satisfaction that we are here to witness bestowal of the Orison Marden on our colleague, friend and brother Akil Al-Jundi.

Akil represents the best in the Legal Aid tradition. He is a veteran of the historic 1971 Attica Rebellion, where inmates issued the declaration to the world that they were “men and not beasts,” to which the State of New York responded by killing 43 inmates and guards.

In his sixteen years at the Society, Akil has displayed a tremendous commitment to our clients, in whose interest he has employed his wide range of skills.

As senior Local 1199 delegate, Akil has been an ardent advocate for his members, and a key figure in building the deepening alliance between Local 1199 and the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, an alliance, the clearest result of which was our first joint strike action, held on July 15 of this year.

We are convinced that this stronger relationship between attorneys and support staff produced not only greater results for all staff at the bargaining table, but that it also improved working relations in the office, where our two memberships work together daily on behalf of indigent clients.

We congratulate Akil and hope to work with him for many years to come.

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