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Attorneys and staffers at legal services nonprofit reach contract, end strike

May 10, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Attorneys and staff with CAMBA Legal Services rallied outside Brooklyn Housing Court Monday. Eagle photo by Noah Goldberg.

Attorneys with a pro-bono Brooklyn legal services organization settled on a contract with their company Friday, ending a four-week strike where workers demanded better paid family leave, more competitive salaries and lower health insurance premiums.

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 of 40, including two pregnant women, began striking on April 15.

“I feel really good about the deal overall,” said Marisa Menna, a staff attorney with CLS. “We won a lot of common sense gains that will enhance quality of life for our members.”

The deal that attorneys and support staff reached with management included annual raises for staff attorneys, as well as lower employee contribution to health insurance premiums, according to staff members. CAMBA also agreed to pay employees 10 percent of their salary when they’re on parental leave, according to Dafina Oruqi, a paralegal for CLS who is eight months pregnant.

CLS staff originally demanded fully paid parental leave. Staff members complained that CAMBA gave out no paid family leave, and that attorneys and staffers often left the organization when they wanted to start a family.

“I’m still not happy, but listen, I don’t have the luxury of being on strike,” Oruqi said. “These days I have to work so I can get a paycheck so I can leave on maternity leave. But that doesn’t mean I agreed to the contract we signed. I respect my coworkers’ decision. Me personally, I would have been on strike a little bit more.”

Because of New York State’s new paid family leave law, Oruqi will collect 55 percent of her salary from the state for ten weeks when she has a child. CAMBA will provide ten percent on top of that.

Oruqi said it’s not enough.

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“65 percent is a joke — especially for support staff,” she said.

“We look forward to their return to serving the clients who depend upon us for outstanding legal representation and other services,” a spokesperson for CAMBA told the Brooklyn Eagle in a statement.

CLS staff unionized last may with the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (UAW Local 2325), and had been battling for a new contract ever since. They held a one-day strike on March 27.

“We made a push definitely and got a lot of last minute political and media support and it was all hugely helpful,” Menna said.

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