Mobilization For Justice, Inc. Employees Declare Indefinite Strike

Published on February 23, 2024, 11:15 pm
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The unionized employees of Mobilization for Justice, Inc. (MFJ) voted to reject MFJ management’s contract offer today and declared an indefinite strike. The 110 unionized employees of the nonprofit legal services organization will begin picketing holding their first pickets in the Bronx tomorrow, Wednesday, February 28, 2024 and Thursday, February 29, 2024 from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., outside of MFJ’s Bronx Office at 424 E. 147th Street.

These union members are part of the Legal Services Staff Association (LSSA) 2320, a “wall-to-wall” union representing support staff, paralegals, attorneys, and other non-management employees. Founded in 1973, LSSA is a unit of the National Organization of Legal Services Workers, UAW Local 2320, Region 9A.

The MFJ Union members are demanding a fair contract that will help retain and attract skilled legal workers so they can continue providing high-quality services to New Yorkers who are low-income, disenfranchised, or have disabilities. In particular, union members are calling for fair pay for all workers, improved healthcare benefits, increased work flexibility, and protections from unjust discipline. The MFJ Union developed these demands collectively to address the organization’s ongoing staffing crisis. In the past year, MFJ lost an unprecedented 23 workers, and it is struggling to fill 17 vacant positions. As a result, the remaining staff members have seen their workloads grow and are dealing with burnout on top of losing an estimated 10% of real wages to inflation over the last three-year contract.

“We are not asking for the moon- we are simply asking for fair pay, more flexible work hours, a strong healthcare and benefits plan, and protection for our most vulnerable members,” said Nikita Salehi-Azhan, a Union Delegate and Staff Attorney in MFJ’s Housing Project. “If we can secure these basic demands, we will achieve a contract that not only allows for staff to survive the exorbitant cost of living in NYC, but also allows them to build sustainable careers at MFJ.”

The consequences of high inflation and lost wages have harmed all union members, but they have disproportionately hurt support staff and paralegals- the majority of whom identify as BIPOC. MFJ places these workers on the lowest salary scales despite their invaluable contributions to clients and the organization. In response to union members’ demands for more pay equity, upper management has refused to rectify the unequal pay scales for MFJ’s lowest paid legal workers. Since most support staff and paralegals identify as BIPOC, MFJ’s inequitable pay perpetuates the racial income gap and racial wealth gap.

“MFJ continues to shamefully neglect the needs of support staff and paralegals,” explained Ella Abeo, a Bargaining Team Member and Paralegal in MFJ’s Housing Project. “As our basic costs of living rise, I have watched my colleagues resort to working second jobs just to support their families. The disregard for our well-being is both disheartening and infuriating.”

During the bargaining process, MFJ upper management has repeatedly violated the law and bargained in bad faith. The MFJ Union has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against upper management for violations of unionized employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act. Furthermore, upper management failed to meaningfully engage with or respond to many of union members’ demands, including numerous mandatory subjects of bargaining.

“Management’s blatant disregard for the bargaining process and their repeated violations of federal labor law have been incredibly disappointing,” declared Brenden Ross, a Bargaining Team Member and Senior Staff Attorney in MFJ’s Mental Health Law Project. “On top of this, their persistent disrespect for our current CBA has exacerbated the injustices faced by our most vulnerable coworkers.”

Contributing to MFJ’s staffing issues, upper management has created a culture where workers do not feel safe and respected. Over the past few years, upper management has developed a practice of targeting vulnerable workers for unjust discipline. To address this practice, union members’ are demanding increased protections for all workers, so they can feel secure at work and can focus on providing quality services to New Yorkers in need. These demands are pressing as MFJ recently fired a temporary worker for exercising her rights before the MFJ Union’s one-day strike on February 2, 2024. Lauded by many staff members for her thoughtfulness, diligence, and care, this temporary worker was staffed at MFJ for seven months, entitling to benefits under the organization’s CBA. However, MFJ failed to provide these benefits, so the Union Delegates filed a grievance and advocated for her to be hired in a full bargaining unit position. In a chilling response to this grievance, MFJ fired her. But union members have forcefully demanded this worker’s reinstatement with all requisite union benefits and protections.

“When our colleague courageously stood up to demand the pay and benefits she deserved, our management retaliated in the cruelest way possible,” said Brian Sullivan, a Union Delegate handling the grievance and a Senior Staff Attorney in MFJ’s Housing Project. “She is an asset to our organization and our clients, but instead of keeping such a valuable staff member, management decided she is disposable.”

Despite MFJ’s unjust practices, union members have worked earnestly to get a fair contract and avoid a strike over the past three months of bargaining. In November 2023, the MFJ Union shared over 30 specific demands with upper management to improve the contract and address MFJ’s staffing crisis. After many bargaining sessions and rounds of demands, responses, and counters, upper management had barely engaged on many key demands. MFJ provided its final contract offer to union members on February 9, 2024. Union members took two weeks to deliberate and voted on management’s final offer today, February 23, 2024. A staggering 93% rejected this contract, immediately launching the MFJ Union into an indefinite strike.

MFJ is known to provide high-quality free legal services to a high volume of New Yorkers. Last year, the organization served nearly 15,000 clients across all five boroughs in New York City. The MFJ Union hopes to avoid a prolonged strike that would significantly limit MFJ’s capacity to support these clients. However, union members strongly believe that a contract providing equitable pay and just working conditions is necessary to solve the staffing crisis and enable the organization to continue providing the high-quality services that New Yorkers deserve. The onus is on MFJ to offer a fair contract that union members would approve in order to end the strike.

“This strike is for a contract that will lead to better services for our clients,” said Dorien Brown, an Administrative Assistant and Executive Secretary at MFJ. “Our clients deserve the best support staff, paralegals, and attorneys.”


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