ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

December 12, 2005

2005.12.12: Re: Loan Forgiveness Issues and DC Vote

From: Azalia Torres
Sent: Monday, December 12, 2005 6:45 PM
To: James Rogers; ALAA MEMBERS
Subject: Re: Loan Forgiveness Issues and DC Vote

It is really despicable that you, President of ALAA, criticize any member of our union for expressing their views on any given issue. ALAA has historically provided a forum for debate of all issues which affect some or all of its members. Debating issues before they are to be voted upon has been a great tradition of our union. One which I think the EB in particular should be nurturing and insuring does not disappear.

Another tradition is the democratic freedom we as members enjoy in being able to voice our disagreements regardless of whom may hold a particular view. No one, including the President of our union, has the right to gag any one of us from expressing disagreements with the leadership. This applies just as strongly to members of the EB.

Any member of the EB has the right to not only disagree with the majority’s position, but also try to rally support for the minority view by going directly to the membership with the debate. Susan Morris has been a very brave and principled individual. She chose to express her disagreement with the EB recommendation precisely because she analyzed it as a departure from our perspective to always make affirmative action a factor in key decisions and areas of our contract.

Susan Morris did not purposefully mislead anyone or create a divisive debate. On the contrary, she has done what the EB had not done and would not have entertained — BROAD BASED DISCUSSION OF A KEY ISSUE FOR OUR MEMBERSHIP! She provided the membership with her analysis of the EB’s process of coming to their recommendation on the loan forgiveness issue.

What is unconscionable, James, is that you resort to attacking a dedicated union member’s character rather than address the content of her contributions to the discussion. You don’t have the right to gag anyone from doing their democratic duty. We worked too hard to bring democracy to this union and it cannot be shut down when what we hear is not pleasing.

The whole debate as well as your comments about a fellow EB member has taken place where all discussions take place: the ALAA site. Susan Morris continues to exercise her democratic duty. In doing so, she strengthens our union. It is comments like yours which continue to erode at what was once such a vital part of our union: DEMOCRACY.

BRAVO SUSAN!!!

Azalia Torres
Attorney
The Legal Aid Society
718-243-6803
atorres@legal-aid.org

>>> James Rogers 12/12 4:16 PM >>>
Our recently expired contract with Legal Aid requires management to set up a $250,000 loan forgiveness fund. The Delegates Council will examine the issue of the loan repayment plan distribution tomorrow night. I just want to clear up a few misconceptions about the process, the Executive Board (EB) vote and where we stand.

The loan forgiveness fund was a major priority during the last contract negotiations. We hoped (and still do) to build on it. Many members work on the total project which includes lobbying legislatures and law schools. Management tried hard to take the funds away during the fiscal meltdown. We understand that attracting and retaining the best, brightest and most diverse staff all hinges on the success of these efforts.

As mentioned in an e-mail by Laura Gitelson, the issues are complex and a committee of dedicated volunteers has been working tirelessly for months to devise a fair system. The Executive Board debated the various systems on 2 different occasions. In addition, the committee which drafted both proposals for the Delegates consideration were at both Executive Board meetings. They ultimately favored the lottery system not because they didn’t want to achieve a fair system based on merit and need but because they believed that in this specific instance merit/need based fairness could still be achieved by using the relatively simple, expeditious, non-intrusive lottery system. (Remember this is not a recurring sum of money at this time).

Moreover, examining real need, that is the amount of debt taken together with personal financial standing is near impossible without paying an administrator to pour over the financial documents of each and every applicant. This may be a valuable endeavor if the program were recurring, administered by a trustee. But as of now, it is a one time cash payout.

It is vital that you all be advised of one thing: The Executive Board, when considering the point system, absolutely and unanimously endorsed an affirmative action approach. We chose to recommend to the delegates the lottery instead of the point system not to avoid our affirmative action goals and policies but to do something fair, quickly and efficiently that would not result in in-fighting over which attorneys receive priority (e.g., junior v. senior v. mid-level attorney; heavy need with otherwise strong financial stability v. low debt with otherwise weak financial stability) and how to establish the true facts of each applicant.

Moreover the EB made a recommendation which the delegates will consider and the entire membership will vote on.

The loan forgiveness committee by and large started out favoring a point system because on its face it seemed most fair. But the administration of such a system was likely to frustrate the goal of fairness. (Ex: Most attorneys of color are junior attorneys and would be at a dis-advantage for points that rewarded higher degrees of service to the Society). Thus, committee members in attendance at the EB wound up, after endless consideration, favoring lottery.

Susan Morris’ suggestion that we avoided our affirmative action goals or disavowed the Executive Board’s commitment to diversity and affirmative action by choosing the lottery system is disingenuous and a deliberate mis-statement of the facts surrounding the Executive Board vote. Her purposeful inaccuracies, creating a divisive debate on management’s e-mail system as we head into bargaining, is quite unconscionable.

The entire leadership of this union is duty bound to accurately inform members of facts which affect their benefits or working conditions, while endeavoring to maintain the unity which is essential to success in dealing with sometimes hostile management.

This is what we commit to when we sign onto the Executive Board/Bargaining Committee. To behave otherwise is a total violation of the members’ trust.

There are important issues to discuss tomorrow night. All members are welcome to attend. Delegates from every office and every cluster/complex are expected to attend.

Jim Rogers
President

George Albro
Secretary Treasurer

Charlotte Hitchcock
Recoding Secretary

James Rogers
President
Association of Legal Aid Attorneys
(UAW 2325)(AFL-CIO)
568 Broadway Room 702 A
New York NY 10012
212-343-0708

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