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Brooklyn Legal Services files with Labor Relations Board for union recognition

June 28, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Employees of Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A filed a petition to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board after Marty Needelman (pictured) and other members of management and the board did not respond to a request to voluntarily recognize their union. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A is looking to be the second legal services provider in Brooklyn to unionize in as many months after it filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) on Wednesday seeking a union election.

The not-for-profit organization provides free legal services in the areas of housing, foreclosure, bankruptcy and community economic development since it was established in 1968.

Employees for Brooklyn Legal Services had sought voluntary recognition from the corporation’s board and management for their decision to unionize, but when it failed to do so they made the decision to file with the NRLB.

“We are surprised and saddened by management’s failure to affirmatively recognize our union,” said Chris Sina, Staff Attorney with the Individual Representation Unit, “especially considering that executive director Marty Needelman initially told us he was open to recognizing the union, and even posed for a celebratory photo with members.”

On June 15, 2018, members of the staff officially notified management that a majority of its employees had voted to unionize, and be represented by the Legal Services Staff Association (LSSA). Corporation A’s management requested time to consider its decision and employees set a June 27 deadline. Management failed to respond by the deadline, according to one staff attorney.

Needleman is expected to step down as executive director soon with Jessica Rose expected to take over. Staff attorneys said that when they initially informed Needleman of their decision that he recalled leading citywide, 13-week strike in 1979 and expressed support for staff attorneys.

“A unionized staff actually predates Marty’s tenure,” staff attorney Caitrin Coccoma said in an email. “In fact, for much of Brooklyn A’s existence, we were a unionized office affiliated with the Legal Services Staff Association [LSSA]. As Brooklyn A celebrates its 50th anniversary this fall, we are hopeful that management will recognize the value and benefit of having staff voices included in the decision making process.”

Needleman did not respond to the Brooklyn Eagle’s requests for comment.

Among the reasons given for wanting to unionize, one staff attorney explained that there have been concerns about unreasonable workloads, insufficient training resources and a lack of transparency in managerial decisions.

Sonja Shield, president of Legal Services Staff Association, NOLSW/UAW 2320, pointed out that management’s lack of a response came on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court made a decision that is expected to have a major negative impact on unions across the nation and called the coincidence disappointing.

CAMBA Legal Services is another legal services provider in Brooklyn that made a successful attempt at unionizing in May. Attorneys at CAMBA were in a similar situation where management failed to respond to its requests for voluntary recognition. In that case, staff attorneys were allowed to join the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys — UAW Local 2325.

LSSA and the staff at Brooklyn Legal Services are expected to hold an election shortly and expect the super-majority’s vote to unionize will be upheld.


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