Brooklyn Boro

High stakes for pregnant staffers striking for parental leave at housing nonprofit

'I’m really scared, but I’m not going to give up'

May 8, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Attorneys and staff with CAMBA Legal Services rallied outside Brooklyn Housing Court Monday. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg.
Share this:

Attorneys and staffers at a Brooklyn-based pro-bono legal services organization have entered the fourth week of a strike demanding fully paid parental leave, more competitive salaries and lower insurance premiums. Two pregnant women are among those striking.

CAMBA Legal Services, which is part of the Brooklyn-based organization CAMBA, provides free representation to tenants in housing court as well as to immigrants seeking residency. The staff, comprised of about 40 people, unionized last May with the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (UAW Local 2325). They began their strike in April while fighting for a new contract with management.

“I’m really scared, but I’m not going to give up,” said Dafina Oruqi, a paralegal with CLS who is due to give birth to her second child in less than a month. Oruqi had to go on food stamps — now known as SNAP — when she had her first child.

Subscribe to our newsletters

“I’m going to listen to my heart and not accept this contract, because it goes against what I believe,” Oruqi said.

Dafina Oruqi, a paralegal with CAMBA Legal Services, is eight months pregnant. Photo courtesy of Dafina Oruqi.
Dafina Oruqi, a paralegal with CAMBA Legal Services. Photo courtesy of Dafina Oruqi.

CLS staff currently gets no paid parental leave from the organization, staff members said.

The most recent contract offered by CAMBA during the strike included paying five percent of employee’s salaries for those on parental leave, according to Paola Rodriguez, a full-time law graduate for CLS who is six months pregnant.

Because of New York State’s paid family leave act, Rodriguez and Oruqi will get 55 percent of their income for 10 weeks if they give birth while still on strike.

“Their parental leave term offered is dehumanizing and frankly disgusting when compared to the CEO’s salary and is a slap in the face to those trying to have a family,” Rodriguez said.

The CEO of CAMBA, Joanne Oplustil, earns over $500,000 per year, according to Patch.

“Management has refused to budge on basic industry standard demands, citing its alleged financial restraints as justification for why it will not offer its hard-working employees an economic package that is viable for their livelihoods,” CLS staff said in a statement Tuesday.

In a statement to the Eagle, a CAMBA spokesperson wrote, “CAMBA has offered generous and competitive salary and benefit increases in good faith, but the lawyers’ union would rather strike than come to a fair agreement. CAMBA remains ready to resolve the issues to the benefit of everyone involved, particularly the people we serve.”

Marisa Menna worked at the Legal Aid Society before switching over to CLS. At the Legal Aid Society, employees receive 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave, Menna said.

Lawyers with CLS say that the lack of fully paid parental leave causes many employees to leave for other organizations that offer better benefits when they decide to start a family.

“CLS is committed to ending the revolving door of talented staff and providing the best possible services for their clients,” the staff said in a statement.

Follow reporter Noah Goldberg on Twitter

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment