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October 8, 1994

1994.10.08: Labor Relations Board to Investigate City’s Role in Negotiations on Legal Aid Contract (NY Times)

New York Times, October 8, 1994

Labor Relations Board to Investigate City’s Role in Negotiations on Legal Aid Contract


The National Labor Relations Board is investigating whether the Giuliani administration violated Federal labor law by insisting that the Legal Aid Society include a no-strike clause in its new contract with the city, a Federal labor official said yesterday.

Daniel Silverman, the regional director of the Labor Relations Board, said in an interview that his agency had begun an inquiry into the city’s role in the tumultuous contract negotiations between the society and its lawyers. The lawyers are employees of the Legal Aid Society, not of the city, Mr. Silverman said.

“We wish to determine whether the City of New York, by conditioning the contract with the Legal Aid Society on the Legal Aid Society’s prohibition of strikes by Legal Aid Society employees, intruded into the collective-bargaining process,” he said.

Mr. Silverman said preliminary inquiries had been addressed to Paul Crotty, the city’s Corporation Counsel, and he expected the matter to be resolved soon.

Lorna Goodman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Crotty, said yesterday, “We just received notification, and we’re studying the issues.”

Commenting on the board’s action, Michael Z. Letwin, the president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, which represents nearly 1,000 staff lawyers, took note of Mr. Giuliani’s past as a United States Attorney. “We think it’s important that every mayor obey the Federal law,” he said. “This Mayor certainly has a lot of experience with Federal law, and we assume he will comply with it.” Mr. Silverman said that if the National Labor Relations Board in Washington determined that relief would be appropriate, a court could issue an injunction against the city. The city could be exposed to a lawsuit for damages on behalf of the Association of Legal Aid attorneys, he said.

On Monday, two days after Legal Aid’s staff lawyers went on strike, the Mayor sent a letter to Michael Iovenko, the society’s president, saying, “In light of the society’s inability to perform the contract, the city terminates the contract effective immediately.” The next day the city announced that any future arrangements with the Legal Aid Society would have to include a no-strike clause.

A meeting on a new contract between the Legal Aid Society and the city took place yesterday between Mr. Iovenko and Katherine Lapp, the Mayor’s criminal justice coordinator. Jacqueline Barnathan, a spokeswoman for the Mayor, said Ms. Lapp told her it had been a “good meeting” with a “cooperative mood.”

After Legal Aid lawyers returned to work on Wednesday, the Mayor said he would not restore the nonprofit organization to its position as primary defender of the poor in the city’s teeming courts. Under a contract that had been in effect for 28 years, the society was getting $79 million a year from the city.

Seeking a 4.5 percent wage increase, the lawyers, whose average salary is $45,000, walked off the job last Saturday when their contract with the society expired. Mr. Giuliani confronted them with an ultimatum: return to work or be replaced. On Wednesday night, after further negotiations with the society, the lawyers voted to return to work.

They agreed to accept bonuses of 2 percent in each of the next two years. Management agreed to binding arbitration on the issue of health-care premiums and agreed to joint committees to study workloads in some of its offices. The two-year contract between the union and the society contains a standard agreement not to strike during its term.

On Thursday, under pressure from the Mayor, the society — pending negotiations with the city on a new contract — agreed to rescind raises of 4.5 percent that had been granted earlier to 203 supervisory personnel.

Although Mr. Silverman declined to go into detail about the board inquiries, he noted that the agency has the authority to begin such an investigation on its own initiative. “The N.L.R.B. has the authority to proceed on its own,” he said. “We do not need any party to come to us.” He said, for example, that where a state “is intruding into the collective-bargaining process, which is governed by Federal law, Federal power pre-empts state action.”


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