ALAA Roots — An Unofficial Site

May 21, 2007

2007.05.21: Re: The Real Issues in This Election

From: [A.]
Sent: Monday, May 21, 2007 11:18 AM
Subject: Re: The Real Issues in This Election

I think there are a few things to be said about this.

Management was spectacularly intransigent at the time of the 94 strike. Bob Batterman of Proskauer was still negotiating on behalf of the Legal Aid Society; he had a long history of underhanded and divisive negotiating tactics. On the board of the Legal Aid Society was Paul Crotty, who was also the Giuliani administration’s corporate counsel: it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some particularly dirty dealing going as a result of this conflict of interest. Moreover,  I was in JRD at the time, and at least JRD had a long history of treating non-white attorneys in a discriminatory manner.  I think that CDD had the same problem to a lesser extent.

The more collaborative approach to negotiating with the city only came in the aftermath of the 94 strike. Proskauer was fired as the Society’s counsel and ALAA was given a greater say in contract negotiations and hiring. As previously noted, James Rogers is not the one who initiated the alliance between Working Families and the ALAA: this occurred under the Letwin administration due in large part to the hard work of George Albro.

Thus many of the advances which are claimed by the advocates of the Rogers administration were things already in place before that administration, and in fact grew out of the 1994 strike.

Although many like to blame the ALAA for the creation of the alternate providers, no one knows what would have happened in the absence of the strike. What is clear is that ex-prosecutor Giuliani would have still been hostile to the Society.  He might still have pushed for alternative providers.  ALAA cannot take the fall for the failures of the Danny Greenberg administration; the ALAA under Michael Letwin pushed for (and ostensibly received) much more transparent disclosure of Legal Aid finances. The failure to discover the horrible accounting practices used by the Greenberg administration must ultimately be laid at the fawning board, which I seem to remember  contained on its finance committee at least one  member of a major accounting firm. (Of course, the board also contained members of many major law firms connected with financial institutions.) The board, much more than the ALAA, would have been in a position to demand the imposition of general acceptable accounting principles.

Unions must sometimes take risks in order to maintain any power. A strike always carries the risk of a negative , as do many important things in life.  However, without the credible threat of a strike, a union is not much more than a social club and  lobbying group. Those who trumpet the leadership of James Rogers might do well to remember that    a significant source of the Union’s power exists as a result of the strikes carried out under his predecessors.

>>> [F.] 5/17/2007 6:45 PM >>>

I hadn’t read Michael’s history of our union and of the ’94 strike since shortly after the National Lawyer’s Guild dinner a few years back which honored the ALAA.  It’s a stirring account, and it would seem impossible  for anyone to come away from it unconvinced of the righteousness of our cause and the villainy of Rudy Giuliani.  (I’ll go further: Giuliani was and still is Evil, with a capital E.)

What I have a problem with in the use of the history as a campaign tool is the lack of a sense of having learned hard lessons from our bad experience, or of asking, in hindsight, what could have been done differently.  The history is black and white: we were right; Management, Giuliani, and the politicians, lawyers, and unions that didn’t support us were wrong  –nothing needs to be reconsidered.

In his email below Michael seems to argue that the strike was a victory.  After acknowledging the bad consequences, he goes on to say, “But strikes must be evaluated not only by their risks, but by their overall impact.  For example, despite Giuliani’s ruthless retaliation, the 1994 strike won us the best two contracts (1998-2000 and 2000-2002) in our Union’s history.”

Overall impact?  Can one fairly laud the 1998-2000 and 2000-2002 contracts as evidence of our success –can one do that in the context of having lost as much funding, as many attorneys, staff, and other resources, and as much morale as we did as a result of the strike?   I’m not positive, but I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of people that were here in 1994 and thereafter would agree that the strike and its aftermath were probably the worst things that ever happened to the union or to the Legal Aid Society.

I’m worried by a political platform that looks at the strike as a glorious event.  Years down the road, when we’ve truly beaten back all that threatens us now, we may be able to look back at the strike as one battle that we fought on the long path to victory.  But right now, more than twelve years later, we’re still living under its cloud. The cause was good and just, the intentions were righteous, and we were in it together, but the immediate and the lingering results were terrible.  If any good came from the strike it came from the extent to which our failure helped us realize the we needed to be more politically pragmatic.

I believe that a minority of the membership has unfairly vilified Jim Rogers.  To say that “his administration…yielded the worst contracts in our Union’s history…and without a fight,” is to understate the extent of Legal Aid’s financial problems and political realities at that time.  (The aforementioned “best two contracts… in our Union’s history” were gained during the now-notorius Danny Greenberg / Theresa Deleon era of fiscal recklessness.)  Jim made great efforts during the financial crisis to keep the membership informed of exactly what was going on and what our options were.

I, for one, do not wish to recapture the union’s “forgotten…fighting spirit, and its “abandoned…roots” if to do so requires me to ignore what seems to me to be plainly true.

>>> Michael Letwin 5/16/2007 5:10:23 PM >>>


The main difference in this election is not, as Elon Harpaz asserts, whether the “Union . . . must do everything possible to ensure that the [Legal Aid] pie . . . is as large as possible” — we have done that for many years.  The difference is whether to stop there (the current leadership’s approach), or to be equally aggressive in dividing up that pie (Azalia’s position).

Lobbying — and Givebacks

From 1990-2002, Azalia was part of a leadership that — particularly after 1994 — put tremendous time and resources into lobbying with 1199 and management for Legal Aid funds.

With that in mind, we affiliated with the UAW in 1995 and with the Working Families Party in 1998.  It’s a cumulative result of that work that the Union has, since well before 1994, successfully defended and/or won millions of dollars in LAS funding.

But we also recognized the need to ensure that staff attorneys and support staff would get their fair share of the Legal Aid pie, when necessary, by organizing joint ALAA/1199 membership action to give our unions the necessary muscle to extract the best possible contract from management.

The current leadership has a very different record.  Believing, in Elon’s words, that “we have to keep any disputes between us and management out of the public eye,” it has indeed “lost its way . . . forgotten its fighting spirit and . . . abandoned its roots.”

Not because it has lobbied for Legal Aid funding, the need for which everyone agrees.  But because it has actively discouraged members from fighting to defend and increase our compensation — or from even having the full facts with which to intelligently debate whether and how to do so.

That’s why, despite successful lobbying for Legal Aid funds both prior to and during the Rogers years, his administration (which effectively began in January 2003) yielded the worst contracts in our Union’s history.

Thus, during 2002-2006, joint ALAA/1199/LAS lobbing won $37.01 million in new and/or restored governmental funding.[1]  Yet, at the very same time, on this leadership’s recommendation, and without a fight:

*In October 2003, we ratified a contract that fell short of the 3% salary increase to which management had previously agreed.

*In June 2004, we surrendered employer-paid TransitCheks and “deferred” a 1.5% bonus for two years.

*In December 2004, we accepted:  (1) Substantial increases in attorney health premium contributions; (2) A one-year reduction of employer pension contributions by more than half; and (3) Complete surrender of the “deferred” bonus (above).

*In November 2006, we accepted a contract which didn’t include meaningful increases above step five, which sharply limited or denied the use of comp time, and — for the first time in our union’s history — didn’t include retro pay. (Junior attorneys did receive greater increases, and deserve still more; but so do attorneys at all levels.)

Yes, there was a serious fiscal crisis at Legal Aid during this period.  But the Society still had — largely due to our unions’ efforts — a $180 million annual budget, much of which it decided to spend on new hires and other expenditures.

In other words, we had givebacks not because “there was no money,” as management and Union leadership claimed, but because the leadership refused to mobilize members to fight for that money to be spent differently.

In February 2005, Jim Rogers even promised — without the membership’s knowledge or consent —  that “strikes won’t happen on my watch.”  That is like trying to negotiate a plea bargain, while assuring the prosecutor that your client has no intention of going to trial.

Under these circumstances, givebacks are irresistible.

Fighting Back

Of course there are risks in fighting back; there always *have* been, for contrary to Elon’s claim, government never was “a passive bystander” to labor strife at Legal Aid.

In the 1973 strike, Appellate Division justices denounced the strikers for “abandoning the responsibility to the indigent which [ALAA] members assumed upon their employment,” and threatened that, if the strike did not end, “we will be compelled to take such action as is warranted by the circumstances.”  In 1974, they threatened strikers with disciplinary charges, recommendations of dismissal and replacement by 18-B attorneys.

During the ten-week 1982 strike, Mayor Ed Koch nearly replaced Legal Aid with a governmental public defender office.  And in 1994, Giuliani canceled the Legal Aid contract, purported to “fire” strikers, set up the scab RFPs and slashed our budget.

But strikes must be evaluated not only by their risks, but by their overall impact.  For example, despite Giuliani’s ruthless retaliation, the 1994 strike[2] won us the best two contracts (1998-2000 and 2000-2002) in our Union’s history.[3]

The lesson is not that we must strike, but that we need to fight back, partly with the kind of “inside strategy” (escalating union action) that we used in the years leading up to 1994.[4]  The only alternative is to stop being a real union.

As former Executive Board members Bob Zuss and Susan Morris wrote in their December 14, 2004 message against givebacks:

“We have a choice.  Let’s not surrender without a fight.  Let’s reaffirm our union’s democratic, fighting traditions by voting no and organizing resistance:  a rapidly-escalating public campaign, including a press conference and pickets at Board members’ offices.  Such resistance offers no guarantees.  But isn’t resistance the reason we have a union in the first place?”

Azalia stands in this tradition, and it’s that which makes her candidacy so important.



[1] This included $8.6 million for FY03 (starting July 1, 2002), $11 million for FY04, $8.11 million for FY06, and $9.3 million for FY07.

[2] It is simply dishonest to blame the 1994 strike and its outcome on union members or leaders.  The strike began when the Giuliani administration attempted to cut our compensation.  The same administration illegally retaliated for the strike by setting up scab/RFPs and slashing the LAS budget.

Moreover, the strike reflected full membership mobilization, disclosure and democratic participation throughout.  It was unanimously recommended both by the Union Bargaining Committee (which included George Albro, Richard Armstrong, Tom Bomba, Dennis Boyd, Barbara Byrne, Gail Geltman, Nancy Ginsburg, Michael Dinnerstein, Michael Letwin, Bob Massi, Judy Whiting, Michael Williams and Robert Zuss) and by the Delegate Council.  The October 3, 1994 membership strike vote was 482-304 on the first ballot, and 681-56 on the second.

In short, we can be proud of the courage ALAA showed in 1994, under the most difficult conditions.

For full facts about 1994, see the attached excerpt from our Union’s history, or go to: <>.

[3] These gains included:

*Salary.  Combined rate/step salary raises that included 47% ($17,000) at step 2, and 20% ($14,000) for senior attorneys who benefitted from creation of new steps 14-25.  No individual attorney received a combined rate/step salary increase of less than 14% ($10,000).

*Institutional Assignments.  $175/shift lobster increase; taxi & meal allowance.

*Tax-free Income.  TransitCheks ($720/yr. or taxable cash equivalent) & pre-tax supplement option; biannual bar registration fee ($300); $500/yr. foreign language allowance.

*Paid Time Off. Ten new discretionary bereavement days/career in all divisions; 5 new personal days/yr. and 5 new vacation days/yr. buy-back in non-CDD units.

*Parental Leave.  Eight paid weeks for all new parents, including adoptive, step-, and each in 2-LAS households; unpaid parental leave expanded to fathers, step-parents, adoptive parents, domestic partners

*Health & Pension.  Retiree health benefits and oral contraceptive coverage; upgraded dental, vision and long-term disability; and earlier LAS pension contributions.

?Part-timers.  Annual salary increases, fewer hours required for employer-paid insurance; increased number of slots, more option for paid hours, elimination of job-sharing and child care requirements, and greater right to return to full-time.

*Work Hours.  Flex-time & telecommuting.

*Private Practice.  Non-conflict private practice option while on unpaid leave.

[4] First developed in the UAW and later embraced by the AFL-CIO, an “inside strategy” refers to a contract campaign in which union members conduct actions short of a full strike. ALAA’s 1990-1994 inside strategy is discussed at <>. See also, e.g., Brenner, ‘Inside Strategy’ Washington Post Byline Strikes, <>; Brecher, New Tactics for Labor-Part II, <> .


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