From: Michael Letwin
Date: Wednesday – May 23, 2007 2:37 PM
Attachments 10.3.94 Video Transcript.wpd (76021 bytes)
In the course of defending Union givebacks under the current leadership, several members have engaged in selective amnesia and/or outright fabrication about the 1994 strike, the essence of which is that a strike-happy leadership tricked the membership into striking by hiding Giuliani’s threats of retaliation, or by exaggerating the support we could expect from other unions. Some other participants in the 1994 strike (including supporters) have failed to challenge these distortions.Such groundless distortions only sabotage legitimate debate about the lessons to be drawn from the strike (and any other aspect of our history). To set the record straight — again and hopefully for the last time — and to help illuminate the true arguments on each side, [below] is the video transcript of the October 3, 1994 membership meeting at which the strike was debated and passed.
Along with other material cited below, it shows that prior to the October 3 strike vote: (1) The whole city knew about Giuliani’s threat; (2) Union leadership did everything short of outright surrender to avert a strike; (3) Union leadership repeatedly cautioned members about the risks of a strike; and (4) Members knowingly voted to accept those risks.
1. The Whole City Knew About Giuliani’s Threat
For at least two days before the strike vote, Giuliani publicly threatened to cancel the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense contract in response to a strike. For example:
* “The Giuliani administration has threatened to terminate the city’s contract with LAS in the event of a walk-out.” NY1, October 1, 1994.
* “Mayor Giuliani is saying you strike, you’re fired. He has threatened to dismiss 1,000 Legal Aid lawyers if they [vote to strike].” WOR-AM Radio, October 3, 1994, 7:06 a.m.
* “Mayor Giuliani has threatened to cancel the existing [city] contract.” Stirgus & Miner, Disorder in the court if angry Legal Aid lawyers go on strike, N.Y. Post, October 3, 1994, 12:1.
* “What my administration will do is exercise the city’s legal rights under the contract if they refuse to go to work, which is to cancel the contract.” Lewis & Mooney, Giuliani re-torts to strike, Threatens Legal Aid lawyers with firing, N.Y. Daily News, October 3, 1994, 8:1.
2. Union Leadership Did Everything Short of Outright Surrender to Avert a Strike
As reflected in the attached, the Union leadership had sought to avoid a strike by minimizing the Union’s demands. When even those were not met, management insisted that, unless the Union Bargaining Committee recommended the Society’s offer, it would not honor that offer; to permit members the option of accepting the offer, the BC did “recommend” it.
3. Union Leadership Repeatedly Cautioned Members About the Risks of a Strike
As highlighted in red in the attached transcript, the Union leadership repeatedly and unambiguously stressed the seriousness of Giuliani’s threats.
4. Members Knowingly Voted to Accept Those Risks
Whatever one now thinks about the strike, there is no doubt that members made a fully informed, rational and deliberate decision. In the best tradition of Union democracy, dissent was not only permitted, but encouraged. Among the most vocal strike supporters were members who have subsequently sought to blame the decision on others. (Jim Rogers, for example, argued: “You have to strike. . . . They [Management] have the money and they won’t give it to us.”)
1. For example:
Lorin Nathan, May 21, 2007, 12:20 p.m.: “At that [strike vote] meeting, the Union leadership, as well as counsel for our Union (whose name escapes me) either failed to advise the membership, or else strongly downplayed, that they had received a communication from the Mayor that if we voted to strike our contract with the City would be immediately cancelled (which is exactly what happened.). The details of this communication only came to light after the cancellation, which occurred immediately after the vote to strike was taken. The strike vote was thus, in my opinion, based on inaccurate and misleading advice from the leadership of the Union.”
Allen Popper, May 21, 2007, 12:27 p.m.: “I do however agree with [Nathan’s] view of the facts of the 1994 meeting. As a Union Leader and active Union Representative from Queens at that time (I am now in Brooklyn), your view of the facts of 1994 is 100% accurate.”; May 17, 2007, 12:43 p.m.: “I have come to the conclusion that our Union Leadership (and Iwas one at the time), did a crappy job regarding the strike. We did not properly advise the members of the consequences.”
00:00 [Michael Williams (Civil) and Letwin discuss salary comparability offer in response to Gary Greenberg (Manhattan CDD). Bad sound.]
0:05:00 Michael Letwin: [Explaining why BC “recommended” offer to membership] Something that the Bargaining Committee, especially in the last four years, had to really deal with, is concern at various times from the membership that perhaps we would lead you into a strike. You remember 1990, when that was a major theme among much of the membership. Even last time, there was some concern that perhaps the Bargaining Committee was pushing people into a strike that they didn’t want.
So, the point was, if you were going to vote on whatever was on the table, just as you are now, you’ll hear our recommendation, and we’re very glad that you didn’t like what we had suggested. But we had to make sure that nobody could fail to understand that we had done our utmost, maybe even more than our utmost, and more than you would like done, so that the burden of taking on a strike, and whatever blame anyone might want to attach to it, is something we all take responsibility for [applause], and that it’s clear that the [inaudible][wild applause] . . . you now have the opportunity to vote yourselves, and I hope you vote the right way [laughter].
0:07:50 Letwin: Our responsibility as the Bargaining Committee is to bring you the best of what management will offer. The best that management will offer may stink—and in fact it does. But our job is not to decide for you what you get to vote on and don’t get to vote on. So, what I would suggest at this point, folks, is that we focus on factual questions regarding the offer. If you don’t understand this offer, let’s talk about that. If you do, let’s move on to the vote [applause].
0:08:32 Daniel Engelstein (ALAA Legal Counsel): [Explains BC’s last offer to avoid a strike, which is no longer on the table in the event of a strike]
0:10:00 Jean Mandic (Brooklyn CDD)[Inaudible, responded to by Michael Williams]
011:16 Letwin: This is the key that people have to understand, and the reason why the Bargaining Committee is recommending very strongly against this offer. You will see if you look at this chart, that, especially in 1996, the best and the worst case offer scenarios. . . our [health] contributions essentially skyrocket. . . . That’s why . . . family contributions under the indemnity plan go up from the current level of in the $70s per paycheck to a best case scenario of $200 and a worst-case scenario of $250.
What this means is that we will be worse off, much worse off, at the end of that second year, in terms of our total compensation package, than we are right now. That’s why it’s a compensation cut for us and that’s why the Bargaining Committee absolutely rejected it . . . [long inaudible portions]
0:26:57 Letwin: [Poor sound] It’s really a question of your own judgement as to how serious a threat [Giuliani] is. Our feeling on the Bargaining Committee is that Giuliani very well may mean to try to [cancel the Society’s criminal defense contract]. He wants to prove what a tough guy he is. He wants to show how he can bust unions. He’s going after the city unions. He’s going after everybody who is on our end of the spectrum, whether they’re poor or union, or whatever. So on one level you have to take him at face value for his intentions.
The question, and I think you know the answer to this as well as we do, is how can he really replace us, in other words, what would he replace us with, especially given the [N.Y.] Times expose about 18-B and the critical cost factor that brings to a city which is busy cutting everything right and left. So, the Bargaining Committee has no better idea than you do as to him. We certainly cannot guarantee you one way or another as to what the result will be.
We all have to use our best guess as to if we vote to strike, and if we hold tough, what his alternatives will be. But I think we can certainly expect that he will at least make a gesture, and perhaps more than a gesture, towards carrying out his threat. And then the question is what kind of response will we be able to mobilize in return. But we don’t have a clear-cut answer on that.
0:28:30 Letwin: For what it’s worth, there’s a letter that you all got on that table from Congressman Major Owens. We had a number of speakers at the rally last Thursday in front of 15 Park Row from other unions. I think that, just as Giuliani sees this as a test to send a message to the unions, to send a message to other people, we at least hope that those other unions and those other people will stand by us because they understand that it is a test too.
0:30:59 Letwin: The Bargaining Committee, every single [round of contract negotiations], comes in with a whole list of everything you could ever want. And management, every single time, says no. And the reason they say no is because they expect us to come in and say all that stuff. What they don’t believe is that you’re going to stand by us. They don’t believe it.
That’s why we’re here today. If management believed that you were prepared to stand by it, they wouldn’t have left this weekend with no additional offer. I think we need to be aware of that, not because it’s a matter of who is to blame for what, but because we have to understand what the dynamic at work here is. Until and unless they believe you—not us, you—we have no strength at the bargaining table or anywhere else.
0:36:14 Karen Moulding (Manhattan CDD): [Concern about slippery slope of health insurance givebacks demanded by Management; concern for probationary employees who strike]
0:38:57 Letwin: I can’t imagine us settling on an offer that in any way compromises the jobs of the new people. [Applause]
0:39:38 Rene Levitan (Manhattan CDD): [Recounts CDD head Bob Baum’s threat to new class of layoff due to Giuliani cuts]
0:40:38 Letwin: We’re not to going to let you guys [new attorneys] stand alone.
0:40:50 Tom Curtis (Manhattan JRD): [Quotes Giuliani threat to cancel contract]: I’ve heard nothing about what I would characterize as legal sabotage as an alternative to the strike, which means going in like the sit-down strikers did at Ford and GM in the 30s and asking for a hearing on every fucking case, in every fucking instance. No pleas. Trials on every case.
My client is entitled to it. I know when I take pleas, I got to talk my client into it. If I don’t talk him into it, he wants a trial. I’m willing to do a trial on every fucking instance that I have an opportunity to do. . . . There are alternatives. . . . I think the strike is an obsolete weapon and in the case of this strike it would be stupid to be brought back to the floor by the 18-Bs and the other people who would walk in and do the cases without us.
0:42:33 Letwin: You did hear from the podium exactly about Rudy Giuliani’s threat. . . . The reason why the entire Executive Committee, which you elect, unanimously voted to put this as the main motion was at the very least so that management didn’t think that coming up to today that they could play off all kinds of things other than a strike. We were trying to put the maximum pressure on to get the best offer for you to vote on today. . . . You have every democratic right, Tom, or anybody else in this room, to amend that motion in any way you like.
0:44:05 Letwin: The Bargaining Committee, despite the best offer that we tried to bring back to you, nonetheless has a strong recommendation, and this is also the recommendation of the Executive Committee, and I believe it was virtually, if not entirely unanimous, that the offer before us is simply unacceptable. That a cut in compensation is unacceptable. That the senior litigator position is unacceptable. That rising in health costs being passed on to us is unacceptable.
And that, although we are quite aware of the risks involved—and we must take the Giuliani threats seriously—that we simply are at a point now that for us to accept an offer like this is far worse a threat than rejecting it and doing whatever is the alternative, whether it be strike or whatever else this body proposes today.
And for that reason, and with a fair amount of concern about possible consequences, and trying to be honest about what those consequences could be, we nonetheless believe that by standing together, by fighting the good fight as we do every day, but fighting it this time on the streets, we believe that’s the course to take.
046:00 [Letwin yes and no floor mikes]
047:31 Tom Bomba (Staten Island CDD/Sr. Atty Rep.): [Inaudible] The BC tried its best to get the best offer. . . . It is completely unacceptable.
0:52:43 Nancy Ginsburg (JRD VP): [We should strike to make JRD head Lenore Gittis listen]
0:52:56 Richard Armstrong (Manhattan CDD). We come to you as victims of conciliation. We come to you as victims of reasonableness. We come to you as victims of good faith. Any doubt that your managers don’t respect you in the least bit should have been wiped away when you. . . .
I basically begged my boro to accept, to take on a bunch of extra work, with the idea that this would result in some kind of money, in some kind of offer. Well, do I feel like a fool. The first offer that we got was zero, it told us exactly where we stood. And then when they came out with this final offer bullshit, and then the final, final offer, it tells us even further where we stand.
This, to a large extent, is about respect. I’m sure that in the debate it’s going to come up, people are gonna say, “well, I’m on the losing end of the money issue; I’m gonna hurt my family; I’m worried about losing my job.“
Well, all of that is true for everyone in this room. But, you will never, ever, get any respect from your managers, and from this Legal Aid Society, if you accept this contract today. [Applause] The time for reasonableness is gone. The time for conciliation is gone. The time for good faith bullshit is gone. It’s time to vote to strike. [Applause]
0:55:36: [? Queens CDD] [Strike is a bad idea, lose money, we’re not going to get respect in this job]
0:58:00 Tom Theopolis (Queens CDD): I consider myself a conservative Republican and pro- management and I am in favor of a strike. [Motion to reject any offer that doesn’t guarantee new atty jobs–passed unanimously by enthusiastic voice vote]
0:59:53 David Affler (Criminal Appeals Bureau): [Offer is shit, but strike is a mistake] We may very well be voting ourselves out of a job. [Amends to authorize BC to accept contract without senior atty proposal and with guaranteed second-year bonus, management percentage of the health increase, step 13; with self-executing strike in one week/seconded]. The reality is that we could be out for months before we get it.
1:02:45 Chuck Ippolito (Bronx CDD): One benefit of a strike under these circumstances is that it will guarantee better contract offers in the next several contracts. That’s exactly what happened in 1982. . . . [Tying up the system while going into court] is highly unethical. When we go into court we cannot act on our own benefit. If a hearing is not to our client’s benefit, we can’t do it to tie up the system; it’s unethical!
[Addresses junior attorneys]. . . . Don’t listen to the supervisors who are trying to scare the shit out of you. They’re scared for their jobs, not yours . . . Giuliani said that he’s gonna to pull the plug twenty-four hours after we take a strike vote, he didn’t say he’s gonna do it today. There’s got to be a reason for that.
We take a strike vote, you guys take a walk with me this afternoon, and sometime tonight our employers are going to call our lawyer and they’re going to say what the best offer is. [Massive applause].
1:07:09 David Lewis (Federal Defender Division). That’s what people thought in 1982 when I was on strike last. They thought it would be a one-day strike. It wasn’t. It was a ten-week strike. They can do without us for ten weeks. They can do without us for maybe longer. And maybe Rudy Giuliani would like to do without us forever. Ten weeks is 20% of our salary. There’s about 3% difference, maybe, being generous, between us and management. It will take seven years for you to see the money. You will never see that money if you have a job [?]
Now I’m with the Federal Defender Division [disruption] I was a picket captain in 1982. And I also litigated against Rudy Giuliani. He is a man who means what he says. I do not wish to strike, and the reason I speak today is that I’ve worked all my life for this institution, The Legal Aid Society. I am still a staff attorney. I admire the work of the Society. I do not wish to see it commit suicide. I believe that is a genuine possibility.
Through ten weeks, groups can be put together to do your work. The work was done for ten weeks by others. The courts didn’t like it much and we didn’t like it either, because we weren’t working. But they did it. And in ten weeks Rudy Giuliani knows many talented legal people who might like to be the head of a new public defender run by the City of New York and not by an independent agency.
This is possible. You must think about this. You must think about this. Do you wish to drive your fellows to lose their jobs. Maybe he’ll replace the Manhattan division; it’s possible. And I don’t want it to happen for another reason. Rudy Giuliani’s campaign is to restructure government. One of the obstacles to his restructuring government is us: our Civil Division, our Prisoners Rights Project, to try to keep the jails from overflowing. And if many of us are not here, so much the better for him.
The cheering is fun and I heard it before. My time is up. I urge you to think about what you are doing like grownups.
1:10:17 Letwin: If you’re voting for a strike it’s not because all the things [David Lewis] said might not be true. Now let’s try to keep that in mind. He went through the ‘82 strike. He paid his dues. He deserves our respect, whether or not you agree with him.
1:10:40 Paul Scotto (Manhattan CDD): Today is my twenty-first anniversary date at the LAS. My primary concern is the city’s threats: how serious are they, how real are they? I haven’t heard anyone yet actually say what the legality is, what the city can do, legally, under the contract . . . Can they simply tomorrow say, the contract’s gone?
1:11:25 Letwin: [There’s no clear-cut answer]. We must assume two things if Giuliani tries to cut us off . . . [Picked up here by 8mm tape]
1:12:25 Carol Fegan (Manhattan JRD) [End; for rest of meeting see 8mm transfers 2 & 1 (in that order)]
Tape 2/From 8mm
0:00:11 Letwin answering Len Egert (Manhattan CDD): . . . If Giuliani tries to cut us off, and I think he’s gonna at least try, we have to assume he’s going to do his best to do it, whether it’s legal or not. And we’re gonna have to assume that we will fight it tooth and nail to make sure it doesn’t go through. But the outcome of that is simply not predictable. It’s more of a political question than a legal question. The issue’s gonna be how much support do we get from the other unions, how does the City Council react? How does the governor react? Those are the kinds of issues. I wish I could give you . . . [Engelstein: I agree with you] We have been looking into this legally, but there’s not going to be a clear legal answer on this. You have to use your political antenna to figure out what the answer is.
0:00:45 Carol Fegan (Manhattan JRD): My last employer was Frank Lorenzo. I think most of you are familiar with Frank Lorenzo. I was a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines. Let me tell you that The Legal Aid Society is even piggier than Eastern Airlines. As most of you know, Frank Lorenzo took Eastern Airlines into bankruptcy after we struck. But I can tell you today that every person who walked that picket line, and struck, and lost a job, yes, lost a job, is happy they did it.
I would also tell you that strikes are scary. It requires each and every one of you to pull on every resource you have. Because once those cameras leave, and I’ll tell you something, they leave damn fast, you become old news in a couple of days, and the weather gets colder and it starts raining. And you say “what the fuck am I doing here?” And the bills keep coming in. And your husband is pissed off. Or your wife is pissed off. Or your kids can’t get those new pair of sneakers.
But having said all that, and I can match my mortgages against anybody’s in this room, and I am middle aged person who gets more scared as the years go by about my future, I can tell you that I would vote yes for this strike. Because we gave—An illustration: at Eastern Airlines, we gave and gave and gave. We gave 20% of our salary one year. We gave part of our medical benefits next year. The following year we gave up our dental benefits. And we lost our jobs finally. Because they won’t stop.
I’ve been here for six years and each contract gets worse. The offers get worse and worse. Because they think that we’re afraid of them. They think they can bring us to our knees because we’re afraid of a public defender coming in and taking our jobs. Well show them that they can’t. New York City is a union town. We all vote. You get out there and you contact every politician in this town that has gotten your vote over the years and you tell them you want them out in that street with you.
00:03:45 Bill Purdy (Bronx CDD): [People want to strike just to get vacation, want to lose jobs, demos fun, about respect] You’re not going to get respect from them by going on strike. . . . I’m not in favor of the offer, I am opposed to strike. . . . Management is scared. Giuliani coming in and saying that we want to pull the Society’s contract, scared a lot of people. And I think it takes time for that message, how scared the supervisors are, to get up to the people who are really offering the dollars and cents. I think a strike at this point is premature. I think they know that we mean business. I think they know we’re serious, and I don’t see the harm in going back to them, coming back here in two days if it takes two days. But I think to vote a strike right now and go out may put ourselves in a situation like it was in 1982 and we may be out for ten weeks.
00:05:59 Len Egert (Manhattan CDD): [City Council Contracts Committee can hold hearings; chair is Ronnie Eldridge, no friend of Giuliani] If [Giuliani] were to rescind an agreement with us, she would hold a hearing, my guess, the next day, and this would turn into a political battle, and she would be on our side in that political battle. So for those of you who are worried about that threat, you need to be worried, but I wouldn’t be too concerned. We’re going to have an agreement, if we vote to strike, way before anything like that happens. [Long strike hard]. . . . What chance to do we have of winning? . . .
Think about this: this primary defender plan in Manhattan [for LAS to take over non-conflict 18-B cases] . . . [Management’s] salivating over this. They’ve got this gift, this jewel that they’ve worked so hard for, and means so much to them. When they think they’re going to lose that, they’re going to go nuts and if we vote to strike today, they’re going to see that slip away immediately, and they’re going to come back with what their real final offer is. . . . They have the money, and the only way we’re going to see a real offer is if we vote to strike. And when we vote to strike, they’re going to come back with that real offer—quick. And when they come back, we can decide to take it. But let’s get the real offer before we decide to just accept whatever they put out. So I say: go to trial. Take the risk, go to trial and go on strike.
0:09:39 Rose Morgan, President, Legal Services Staff Assn. [Supports the strike]
0:16:41 Angela Doyle (1199 VP). We [ALAA and 1199] really have grown closer over the past several years. And I think that’s due in great part to a marvelous [ALAA] executive board. You have a leadership that is easy to work with because they constantly keep their eyes on the prize. . . . We are with you, we are with you, we are with you. . . . Whatever it takes for all of us to get a decent contract out of these penny-pinching bums. . . . Whatever you decide to do, we want you to know we will be with you shoulder to shoulder, whatever it takes, so that we can all walk away from this with a contract we can be proud of.
0:18:47 Akil Al-Jundi (Manhattan CDD, senior 1199 delegate, and survivor of the 1971 Attica Prison uprising): Brothers and sisters, friends and comrades. October 3, 1994 marks a very historic occasion for the ALAA and Local 1199. On Friday, you made a decision to go out for three days [Friday night, September 30, through Sunday, October 2]. Our union also made a decision that on October 3,
1994, today, that we would be on the picket line, on strike, as well.
Striking is not an easy task for workers to do, because of the various subjective reasons that people may give for not wanting to go out. But allow for me to give you some historical significance. We’ve been negotiating, “we” meaning Local 1199 support staff members, from social workers on down to messengers, have been working for the Society for one year without a contract. Not only have we been working without a contract, [but] in our attempts to negotiate a contract as our clients say, [Management] “dissed us.” How can you sit here in front of all these people and make this statement?
The last time that we had an actual negotiations with these people were in April of 1994. They told us then that they were having some problems, that they needed to look at our benefit fund, and that they would get back to us and make the offer. Now, as I stand here in front of you today, October 3, 1994, let me tell you, at the least they had the gumption to offer you some kind of wage increase. It’s pittance, but at least they did offer you one. They have yet to make a monetary offer to us.
So, we’ve waited for them. Nothing happened. Then on July 28, I think it was, they called us. I went there, and I thought that they had something to tell us. They had nothing to tell us. They told us that they asked us to come here so that they can see our faces! Our faces. They don’t need to see our faces, because their middle management people can tell them how we look every day.
So I said to them, I said, “Yo, you ain’t taking us serious. Something’s going to happen.
So they said, “Oh, we’re going to go and check this stuff and we’re going to get back to you because we want to end this stuff by September because we don’t want you to be out when the lawyers are out [on strike].”
So we said, ok, let us wait to see what happens.
September the 21st, 1994 we had a meeting planned. We conducted our meeting. And we said, above everything else, the most important thing for us is that we wanted them to come to the table, to sit down with us and tell us something, tell us something—any old thing. We didn’t get a table. So we made the decision. We recommended, the delegateship, we recommended that we have a one-day strike. But, naturally, we needed to go back to our membership to get their consent.
On the 23d of September 1994, I received a phone call from [management counsel] Bob Batterman.
He said, “Oh, oh, oh, what’s this shit, this shit that’s going on?”
I said, “What are you talking about, sir?”
He said, “You’re not going to let the lawyers dupe you and have you go out with them.”
I said, “Nobody’s going anyplace, sir, what are you talking about?”
He said, “Oh no Akil, you know I’ve always been honest with you [laughter].
He said, “You know, those of you who know me, you know I come from the streets, so I know I have them.”
I said, “Yeah. Well, you know what, I’m going to tell you something: my people are sick and tired of ya’ll. They think that you’ve been disrespectful to them. And so, if you want to win our confidence, then you better come up with something, and you better come up with it soon.”
So he said, “I ain’t shittin you, I ain’t shittin’ you. I’m serious. I want to settle this stuff. Don’t let the lawyers do that to you. Don’t double-team me.”
So I said, “I’m not double-teaming you. We haven’t made no decision as of yet. But like I told you before, if you want to resolve the contradiction, you’ve got to make a move.”
So he said, “Well, here’s my number, I’m going be at 5-18,” something or other, you know, I don’t know. “I’ve been trying to reach [1199 VP] Angela [Doyle]. Tell her to call me. You know, I’m going to be out of town.”
So I said, “Ok.” So I called the union and I passed the information on.
But let me say something to you, right? See, how do people take us? Whether they take us seriously or not is a question. While [Batterman] was saying to me that he wanted to resolve this contradiction, he was packing his bags to go off to Toronto to negotiate the contract for the NHL, for them dogs, those owners, those two-legged dogs, who don’t want nobody to have two of nothin’. They don’t want the players to have nothing, and they don’t want the fans to have anything. So while he was telling us that he was concerned, all he was doing was trying to ally the fears of them folks on the 22d floor of 15 Park Row [LAS HQ], so he could say “Well, I talked to Akil, nothing is gonna happen, and then we can just go on like business as usual.”
Uh huh. Well we a big surprise for they butts. Ok? I spoke to Michael Letwin and we thought that it would be important for us to do this. Because, one, it would enable us to build a better working relationship between the two unions. [Applause]. For those of us who have to look each other in the faces every day, when you need some services done and you have to come to us, and when we are given the orders to do whatever you need done for us to carry it out so that they, on the 22d floor of 15 Park Row, can reap the benefits of our labor.
So, it hurts, it hurts, that we have to take such drastic measures in order to get what we deserve. But I’m gonna tell you something. Frederick Douglass said that “Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never did, and it never will.”
Now, I did not vote for Rudy Giuliani. And I don’t think that the majority of you, who are in here, voted for him also. But he’s the mayor. So what did the Mayor say? Instead of him taking the time and the responsibility to meet with folk to see what was going on, the first thing he did was issue his ultimatum.
He said, “Well, if they’re not in by such and such a day, I’m gonna shut the whole place down.”
So you know what happened? [Management] called me, they was like, “Oh my god, how can you let this happen?”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
They said, “We’re going to be out of a job.”
I said, “Oh shit, I’m going to be out of one too.”
So we all gonna be out of a job. That means [Management counsel] Bob Batterman, [LAS managers] Bob Baum, Nina Epstein, Amy Feldman, Cathy Elliot. Akil Al-Jundi, and my momma, if so be it. But, the fact of the matter is, is that we would have taken a stand. We would have taken, the sister said before, about how you deal with in your relationships. Sometimes, because you see that there’s some good in the relationship, you try to hold on. And sometime, you come to the conclusion that enough is enough is enough. And I stand here, in front of you, my brothers and sisters, in poor health, physically, but in the best of health psychologically, spiritually and politically, because what we are doing is the right thing to do.
We’ve negotiated. We have negotiated and negotiated and negotiated. Alright? And all they want us to do is to take the little bit of crumbs and go away quietly, while they live high off of the hog. But this is a new day. This is a new Legal Aid Society. [Interruption] But the fact of the matter is that we took this stand. You see, because there is some who would like to divert us from what our task is.
But see, the fact of the matter is that, all of us reap the benefits of those who struggle, of those who struggle. So you not in it only for yourselves. You’re in it for those who led the struggle before you, and for those who will come afterwards to lead the struggle. They would have had this as their legacy. So, like they said in the December 12th: straight ahead. [Cheers]
33:20 Michael Bournas-Ney (Volunteer Division): [Giuliani’s looking for 7,000 layoffs, and we’re not among them; we’re paid more than legal services] You could see Giuliani going to the public and saying “these people are representing people accused of brutalizing and robbing you and your families. They make more money than the DAs, and now they want you, the public, to pay them even more.
So in terms of the court of public opinion, I don’t think the public support is there . . . The judge we’re going before is Giuliani. . . . [w]e’re not going to have public support from the jury of the public. We’re not going to face a decent judge, we’re going to face Giuliani. I’m sure the energy in here is similar to what was going on in the PATCO air controller’s strike. . . . They went ahead, and we all know what happened. If we go ahead with the strike today, Giuliani is going to make good on his wishes. Just because we feel very good about something. And 1199, which we really appreciate, is supporting us at 15 Park Row, does not mean that there is going to be public support for us sufficient for this strike to be successful.
35:20 Bruce Taylor (Bronx CDD): [We have better conditions here than the DAs in vacation, comp.] You’re not [striking] for your clients, you’re striking for yourselves.
37:22 Shanti Narra (Manhattan CDD, probationary attorney): I left a really high-paying job to come here, because this is what I wanted to do. . . . Well, I knew what the salary was going to be, but I didn’t expect to come here and then get screwed. . . . People keep talking about Giuliani and I don’t think that’s a baseless threat. But . . . the people that we have to be focusing on is the Society. And I truly believe that if we vote to strike they’re not going to risk their six-figure salaries to let Giuliani make good on his threat. They are gonna to come back with some kind of offer.
I don’t think this is going to be a ten-week strike. . . . Just because I’ve been here for seven months does not mean that I don’t have a right to my opinion and a right to evaluate what’s been going on. . . . Twenty-seven-year-old first year me took this seriously. . . . If need be I’ll get a temporary job.
40:00 [?] [Offer not good, but strike isn’t a good alternative] No one on the Executive Committee can tell you whether the LAS will exist tomorrow. They don’t know. No one knows. And if you’re willing to take that gamble, I’m sorry, because I’m afraid that I may not have a job tomorrow. . . . If you vote for a strike, I hope you’re correct. . . . And you can’t take a vote like that until you know.
42:00 Mitch Briskey (Criminal Appeals Bureau). Very few people in the course of their anonymous lives have the chance to do something that affirms their dignity and worth as human beings. And for those who say that it doesn’t matter if you have no respect, and it doesn’t matter if you have no dignity, and it doesn’t matter if your employer treats you like shit, I ask you to question in your hearts: are you capable of advocating another human being’s rights . . . if you can’t stand up for yourself? . . . . I invoke the old Yiddish proverb that if you’re being pissed on, you can’t pretend it’s rain.
43:40 (? Staten Island CDD): I have heard a lot of bravado about Mayor Giuliani. And I don’t know about what Giuliani is going to be doing. . . . I don’t think that we don’t know where the City Council is going to stand, how much of the City Council we have behind us. . . . I would like to know [what’s going to happen]. . . . Let’s put it over a few days.
47:20 Judy Whiting (Volunteer Division): We’ve made major efforts to contact our council people, our senators, our assembly people, [Manhattan Boro President] Ruth Messenger, [Public Advocate] Mark Green, and we we’re faxing like wildfire for the past couple of days. . . . Yesterday, we happened upon [Governor] Mario Cuomo on the steps of City Hall, and Michael had a good chance to speak with him, and Cuomo is up to speed about what’s going on, and we spoke to a number of other legislators right then and there, maybe fifteen or twenty people. So people do know what’s going on.
48:26 Quentin Smith (Staten Island CDD): I will vote not to accept the offer . . . However, I will vote not to strike. I propose continuation of negations, with creative labor actions designed to display our resolve and achieve our objective, which is a good contract. . . .
A strike, at this time, is not in labor’s best interest, but creative, social action, while continuing negotiation, is. . . . If you display resolve, if you come up with alternates to a strike and you have creative ideas to assert leverage, to demonstrate solidarity, and that this proposal before us is unacceptable . . .
Do not hurt ourselves . . . The Vietnam War, the American Revolution, the parties that won both of those wars did not engage in traditional warfare. They used guerilla tactics designed to win. And I say you must use similar ideas. The traditional notion of a strike will only harm us.
The proposal, then, is to reject the contract, continue negotiations, and establish a committee to consider creative ways to leverage our position and our strength [Seconded].
51:00 Mark Gombiner (Federal Defender Division): If there’s a vote in a favor of a strike I intend to honor it. I believe in unions, I believe in majority rule. . . . The political reality of this city today is that when Giuliani is laying off thousands of hospital workers, when [1199 President] Dennis Rivera is hailed as a hero for negotiating a contract with a zero percent increase to avoid layoffs, the headline in the papers tomorrow is not going to be “white middle class Legal Aid lawyers get 5% salary increases . . . another thousand hospital workers laid off.” That is not going to happen. And a strike that can’t produce a good result is not a good strike.
52:27 Bob Massi (Brooklyn CDD): . . . If you don’t want this offer, the only viable alternative you have . . . is a strike. . . . If you vote to send us back to the table, even with a self-executing strike date. . . . tomorrow morning they will know we’re not going to strike . . . [and] your Bargaining Committee will have absolutely no leverage at all. Absolutely no leverage.
We have made the mistake since 1990 of threatening to hit them and we haven’t delivered the punch. That’s the problem. And now we’re at a point where we can’t threaten anymore. And if we don’t do it now, or try to delay it, it’s going to be perceived as a weakness. A vote, even a self-executing vote, is a vote for a strike a week away. That’s what’ll happen, because they will not bargain with us. They think that you’re afraid. They believe that, and if you do this, they’re going to know that. . . . From past experience we know this doesn’t work.
55:30 David Feige (Brooklyn CDD): I want to strike. At the same time, I believe it would be wrong. . . . When you make this decision, be willing to accept the consequences. Take Rudy Giuliani at face value, please. Accept that it is possible that we will no longer have a LAS to fight with, and to fight for.
56:56: Babe Howell (Manhattan CDD), new hire, chair of Finance and Temporary Employment Strike Committee: [Explains strike finances, etc.] . . . . New hires should realize that four out of five of the last years we have walked away from this process with nothing. You can’t think of just yourself and just today. These are your colleagues. . . . I urge you to vote to strike.
58:04 Mihea Kim (Manhattan CDD): [For strike]
59:06 Mark Cogan (Brooklyn CDD): I’d like to ask each one of you to think: What is the worst experience you’ve ever gone through in your life? . . . . And then, I’d like you to examine the question that, quite possibly, going on strike this year may turn out to be the worst experience of your life. . . . This strike will be seen as us going out for purely selfish reasons. . . .
1:01:17 Scott Sommer (Legal Services Staff Assn.) [Leads applause for Bargaining Committee; issue is power struggle between Batterman, Giuliani and ALAA] You cannot bow down in the face of [Giuliani’s] kind of threat.
1:04:56 Michael Dinnerstein (ALAA Secy-Treasurer) [Teamsters International Union letter of support]
1:07:28 Arthur Hopkirk (Criminal Appeals Bureau). [Moves to separate contract from strike and moves that if last BC proposal not accepted by Tuesday, Oct. 11, on strike; seconded]
1:08:50 Joyce Korn (Brooklyn CDD): [Bad political climate, shoot for one-year contract]
1:09:50 Leslie Yulkowski (Manhattan CDD): It’s not about money . . . . It’s about what’s right . . . I think it’s selfish when for every ten dollars that [LAS chief] Arch Murray takes from the City to serve poor people, three of it goes to us, and seven dollars gets sucked up the asses of those pigs at the trough. . . . Cut the losses, fire the bosses.
1:10:55 Gary Greenberg (Manhattan CDD): [Senior attys haven’t had increases; moves to prohibit EC from submitting proposal that doesn’t include additional steps; seconded]
1:11:55. Jim Rogers (Bronx CDD): If we don’t strike. . . . you’re gonna be in an HMO [health insurance plan] before you can blink an eye. . . . You have to strike. . . . [I]f you don’t you’re going on an HMO . . . They have the money and they won’t give it to us.
1:13:06: Scott Buell (Brooklyn CDD): [Supports strike]. I’m worried to death about the health benefits [Hodgkins Disease, etc.]. . . . We’re making a reasoned judgment that this is best thing to do.
1:14:08 Claudette Spencer (Prisoners Rights Project): [Step 13 not comparable with DAs, etc.] I’m voting to strike today, like I voted to strike in 1992, because I knew we’d be right here today where we’re at if we didn’t vote to strike in 1992. . . . If we don’t vote to strike today, we might as well disband this union, take the $30 in union dues and pocket it, ‘cause that’s the biggest increase we’ll ever get.
1:15:05 Michelle Smith (Bronx CDD, second-yr atty). I’ve got four family members who are presently clients of the LAS. They support this strike because they want lawyers who are able to stay here, to have families, to enjoy a Friday night, possibly, without feeling guilty about it, to be able to go out and live a life and still defend poor people. That’s what this is about.
And I want to address the person who spoke and talked about the white middle class lawyers stepping out— take a look, ok? And finally, to the person who said “imagine the worst experience you’ve ever had in your life”: I’ve had many of them, but one of the worst will be the day I have to walk into 1020 Grand Concourse [Bronx CDD] and bow my head because I took a possible pay cut and look into the faces of the people reading the NYLJ who just got 4.5 [percent]. I vote to strike.
1:17:00 Maggie Kay (Bronx CDD): I resent the admonition to act like a grownup. I am about the closest thing you’re going to find to a grownup. I support a twelve-year-old child. I get up every day and go to work. I pay taxes. And I have a pile of window envelopes in my mail every fuckin time I turn around. Now I am sick of being offered garbage by management. . . . So the bottom line is that for her, and for me, and for every other working person in this room who loves their family and has a modicum of self respect, I vote to strike.
1:18:45 Maquita Moody (Manhattan CDD): Respect is important. And the offer that they’ve given us shows that not only do they not respect us, but they don’t respect our clients. A couple of weeks ago, I had a client who was on life parole, and he was facing another life sentence. And the offer was two-and- a-half to five [years in prison]. And he said, “Ms. Moody, I’m not taking the offer. I know that I might lose, I know that I probably will lose. But I can do the time. I’m not taking the offer because I’m not guilty.”
And I want you to know that you’re not guilty. You’re not guilty because you want a living wage. You’re not guilty because you want health care benefits. And you’re not guilty because you represent the poor.
1:19:55 Donna Lewis (Queens CDD): I’d like to add to all the voices, a proverb: the rock in the sun does not understand the pain of the rock in the water. I don’t know who’s in the water and who’s in the sun. If I was a pregnant woman, I may very well be weighing the decision differently. . . . But deep down I want to say, deep down in my gut something tells me there’s no other way to go. And when there is no other way to go, you simply have to go ahead [and strike].
1:20:55 Milton Zelermyer (Prisoners Rights Project): I heard the Mayor on the radio late last night. He was asked to comment about the strike. He didn’t say anything about the threat in a direct way, but in a veiled way, and in his profound way, he said that we are lawyers, lawyers have legal obligations and he and the city expect that we will meet our legal obligations.
My answer to Mayor Giuliani is this: the money that is given the LAS by the government, by private donors, by foundations, is not the Legal Aid Society’s money. . . . The Board, by not dealing with us fairly, has violated its legal obligations. Yes, we have legal obligations to our clients as well. But today, we can best serve our clients by working to redirect how Legal Aid spends its money. A vote to strike is a vote in that direction.
1:22:16 Susan Sternberg (Brooklyn Civil): I take seriously, and have listened respectfully, to the concerns that have been raised at the other microphone. . . . And I have every confidence that my Bargaining Committee and my Executive Committee took those concerns into account and did not arrive lightly at their recommendation to us today. . . .
It does not serve our clients for people to not be able to stay at The LAS because of the morale, the working conditions, the salaries and the attacks on benefits that are continuing and escalating. . . . It does serve our clients to stand up for ourselves and enable people to make a career here, give guidance to their colleagues, and not have people leaving with the attrition and the exodus that I’ve seen over the last year in the Civil Division that is shocking.
1:23:55 David Lewis (Federal Defender Division): There are at least three reasons for not having a strike. The first is that, if history is any measure, the strike will not get us anywhere. It didn’t in 1982 and it didn’t in 1974. [garbled]. . . . I do believe that people ought to have a career here. And I believe that there ought to be a here to have that career at. And I do not think that people ought lightly to take the chance, the very real chance, that there will be no more LAS to have a career at.
1:25:50 Maria-Elena Gonzales (Volunteer Division): [We don’t have comparability with DAs]
1:26:59 Debra Siner (Brooklyn CDD): Management has already rejected that pitiful, stupid offer (no offense) that the Bargaining Committee gave it. They rejected it so out of hand that there has been no bargaining this whole weekend. There’s not been the ‘round the clock bargaining there usually is.
And also, as I understand it, we have walked out. They can impose that contract. So if we divide that issue, it becomes a matter of voting yes or yes. There goes our choice. . . .
Debate about the 1994 strike (and any other aspect of our history) is relevant and welcome. Management just managed to find a brand new, $150,000 job for Arch Murray so they can kick him upstairs. And yet, they’re saying they can’t find money for our benefits, when we go in and we get exposed to tuberculosis all the time! . . . . Strike.
1:29:05 [Vote on amendments: (1) Vote down contract and pursue an inside resistance strategy; (2) If management doesn’t accept last proposal, automatic strike 10/11; (3) No offer without additional steps
(4) If Management won’t accept a one-year contract, strike on Weds. BC opposes anything less than a strike because BC won’t have leverage]
1:34:00 Pans crowd.
1:35:20 Voice votes on amendments
1:39:50. Letwin: [Whatever the vote, we don’t go back to work today, since 1199 is out; explains voting procedure]
1:43:20 [Paper balloting, people mill]
1:45:20 Letwin explains strike rules
1:47:15 Ballots being counted by BC, et al with TV cameras.
Tape 1/From 8mm
0:00:20 [?] We’re calling their bluff
0:00:30 Len Egert (Manhattan CDD)
0:10:12 Letwin [Contract vote 304-482-6, i.e., 61% strike vote; UAW vote; asks for united vote for benefits]
0:03:09 [Milling about, chanting “no contract, no work” and “we represent the poor, that’s why they won’t pay us more”; David Owen, Michael Williams, Cedric Gayle, Walter, Jean Mandic, Mark Gombiner, Larry Gurwitch, Susan Light, Steve Wasserman]
0:06:48 Len Egert (Manhattan CDD): Right now, we made a very important decision. I think it’s important to emphasize that no matter how you felt about the decision, no matter what way you voted, whether you voted yes or no, right now we’re gonna need to come together, we’re going to have to come together and unite into one strong message, one union.
And we’re going to have to support each other. We’re going to need more support than through all these negotiations, throughout whatever happened, now’s the time to come together and in one loud, united voice, say, no contract, no work [echo]. What do we want? When do we want it? etc. And if we don’t get it: strike, strike, strike.
0:07:50 Steve Wasserman (CDD Special Litigation): Hey, I’m just very, very proud to be part of this democracy. I have more faith in it than any other democracy I’ve ever been associated with. I believe that whatever was done is wise, and that it’s gonna work out for the best. And I will be with this group till the end.
0:08:20 Maggie Kay (Bronx CDD): It’s about time. We’ve taken nothing for too long. I’m tired of it. It is time. God bless the Union.
0:08:22 [? others in favor, hard to hear]
0:08:46 Susan Light [Inaudible]
0:09:10 [Strike group with signs on stage: Pam Peters, Michael Dinnerstein, Allen Popper leading strike chant; “no justice without us” and “Arch Murray in your tower, Legal Aid has Union power.”]
0:11:54 [Letwin announces vote 56-681-5 and assembly in front of the building]
0:11:20 Outside building and march
0:13:25 March [Chanting]. Richard Armstrong, Tom Bomba, Gail Geltman, Bob Massi, Richard Blum, Jane Bock, Tony Elichter, May Pepitto, Mark Gombiner, Elon Harpaz, Juan Beritan, Leslie Yulkowsky, Ariella Shuster, Yvonne Floyd-Mayer, Reggie Haley, Michael Letwin, (with cops), Susan Light: “We represent the poor, that’s why they won’t pay us more,” Andy Ko, Allen Popper.
0:16:09 Richard Armstrong (“fuck management”) Bob Massi (“fuck management”), Bob Zuss (“it’s the best day of my eight years at Legal Aid”), Gail Geltman (“This is the best day of my life. We’re finally show them that we’re taking a stand for ourselves. I’m fired up, won’t take no more.”) Bob Hopkirk, Jane Coleman.
0:17:13 Alice Swenson (Bronx CDD): “It’s the best day that I’ve been here in four years. Because we’ve finally stood up for ourselves, which means maybe we can stand up for the people we represent.”
0:17:20 [? Woman echoes Swenson]
0:17:35 Chants: No work, on strike
0:17:50 100 Centre Street with police & chants.
0:18:29 Picket line “We represent the poor, that’s why they won’t pay us more.”