ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

May 15, 2007

2007.05.05: Reply to James Rogers (Azalia Torres)

Jim Rogers’ May 11 denunciation of my presidential candidacy plays fast and lose with the facts.

First, the May 14 Brooklyn CDD statement (which is not the same as the draft attacked by Rogers) in favor of my candidacy reflects not just me or Michael Letwin (with whom I am proud to have been allied for twenty years), but the forty-three people in this office who endorsed it.Second, I did not advocate one-day strikes “when 161 junior attorneys had pink slips just 3 years ago and Legal Aid was facing bankruptcy.” This is what I did advocate at that time:

●On March 29, 2004, I sent members an email message in support of a resolution, proposed by Brooklyn CDD senior attorneys, calling for ALAA to affirm that it was opposed to “layoffs, involuntary inter-division transfers, or contractual give-backs for staff attorneys or 1199 support staff,” calling for ALAA’s leadership to “[p]rovide the membership with frequent, factual *written* reports,” and to “[c]losely coordinate with our sister union, 1199SEIU.” (On April 15, that proposal was adopted by the citywide senior attorneys caucus.)

●On April 12, 2004, I supported a unanimous proposal by Brooklyn CDD delegates oppose layoffs by having “ALAA/1199 hold . . . an emergency mass press conference/demonstration on Monday, May 17, in which members, political and community allies should participate” (the union leadership eventually called such a rally), and by agreeing that “[f]rom May 17 on, ALAA members who received a pink slip will wear a designated pink pin to the office and to court; all members will wear a black armband in solidarity.”

●On June 29, 2004, I endorsed statement advocating a joint campaign with 1199, in which ALAA would vote against givebacks, “[d]emand a two-week suspension of layoff notices to negotiate non-concessionary alternatives,” and “[o]rganize very public pressure, with support from the City Council and other allies.”

●On August 25, 2004, I was among twenty-five Brooklyn-CDD members who called on the Union leadership to “[i]mmediately inform the [Legal Aid] Board that we categorically reject *any* additional ALAA/1199 layoffs or give-backs,” to “tell . . . the Board that, unless it agrees to the above position, we and 1199 (subject to its agreement) will launch a rapidly-escalating public campaign, including a press conference and pickets at Board members’ offices in early September,” and to give all members “complete, prompt, factual written reports on each discussion held with management and/or the Board.”

I stand by these arguments. Unfortunately, the current union leadership rejected most of these proposals, the result of which was the second in three rounds of givebacks since 2002.

Third, contrary to Rogers’ pronouncements, one-day job actions (which are not necessarily strikes) has been used successfully by many unions, including ours and 1199. See ALAA’s history at: <http://www.alaa.org/pages/History.pdf>. It is just one of many creative ways to mobilize the membership.

(ALAA’s 1994 strike was not called as a one-day job action, but as an all-out strike, and was attacked on that basis by Giuliani & Co.)

Rogers has the right to support the presidential candidate of his choice. But he shouldn’t do so by distorting the facts and diverting attention from the dismal record of givebacks and non-transparency of the Union leadership since 2002.

——
From: James Rogers
Date: Friday – May 11, 2007 4:54 PM
Subject: Some Seriously Unsound Ideas: Please Read Carefully

I thought that I had written my last e-mail to all of you but when this came across my desk, it was too important to ignore.

Attached here you will find a petition sent out by Michael Letwin to potential supporters of Azalia Torres at Brooklyn CDD. I am glad that you can see this document because it evidences Michael and Azalia’s perspective and states their strategy for handling challenges the union might face in the future.

The advocacy in this document for “one day job actions” – read: one day strikes – is the single most dangerous, careless and potentially costly type of union action there is. And every union worth its weight knows this. One day strikes earn the striking membership all of the negativity of a full on strike – but provide none of the leverage to gain benefits. (labor organizing 101)

Consider: In a one day strike, membership loses pay, the City seizes the opportunity to cancel our contracts to hire much cheaper, inexperienced attorneys. Moreover, the membership loses all of its public and political support under the obvious theory: that if the issue is not important enough to call a full strike then our supporters cannot really understand how it is we would abandon our clients even for a day. Finally, these kinds of one day strikes – or “job actions” – provide absolutely zero leverage because they cost the employer nothing but case coverage for a single day.

(Full strikes can and do make sense as powerful tools. They are used judiciously and only when the striking union has the complete support of organized labor.)

To be sure, these are Michael Letwin’s words, not Azalia’s but you ought to know that these are precisely the tactics she advocated using when 161 junior attorneys had pink slips just 3 years ago and Legal Aid was facing bankruptcy. These proposals were soundly rejected by the Executive Board and the membership as suicide. Instead the membership engaged in more concerted, more strategic action with all of organized labor and saved those jobs and the entire Legal Aid Society.

Yes we felt a serious pinch in an effort to save those jobs and Legal Aid. But when the membership -especially new attorneys – hear about give-backs, remember that those negotiations saved the jobs of people who were in your exact position just a few years ago.

The truth is that in the last contract the junior attorneys received the highest single raise in Legal Aid’s history. They gained the right for the first time to sell back comp days and receive cash for their work when they needed it. We at Legal Aid make more and have better benefits then any other Legal Services outfit in the City and we managed that with careful deliberation, planning and the solidarity of the New York City labor movement.

Now here is Michael Letwin’s petition: Its all you really need to know.

Michael Letwin 5/8/2007 5:25 PM >>>
[As discussed in our meeting, below is a Brooklyn CDD statement in support of Azalia. TO SIGN ON, PLEASE REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE BY THE END OF TOMORROW (WEDS.) AND ASK OTHERS TO SIGN.]

The undersigned ALAA members in Brooklyn CDD strongly support Azalia Torres’ presidential candidacy.

Throughout her twenty years as a Staff Attorney and ALAA leader, Azalia has proven herself a tenacious and dedicated champion of democratic, fighting unionism.

She has sought to empower union members and to hold union leadership accountable.

She has fought tirelessly for affirmative action, for senior attorneys, and for all our members.

Her honesty and integrity is beyond question, for she has fearlessly stood up for her beliefs — even when it meant standing nearly alone against the disastrous givebacks surrendered without a fight by the current union leadership.

Rather than succumb to fear-mongering, she knows that the union’s power in contract negotiations depends on organizing membership pressure to extract the best possible offer.

And she knows that there are many forms of pressure short of a full strike, including informational pickets, rallies, press conferences, and one-day job actions.

In other words, she offers the leadership necessary to restore this union to its role as a strong, effective and principled advocate for our members and clients.

If you agree with us, please raise your voice and speak out.

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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