Brooklyn Public Defender Union To Hold 2nd Lunchtime Picket

By Andrea Keckley | July 25, 2023, 4:53 PM EDT ·

Nearly two years after eligible employees voted to unionize and be represented by the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, Brooklyn Defender Services employees plan to hold a second lunchtime picket on Wednesday as they remain without a contract.

The union accused management Tuesday of negotiating in bad faith and "making minuscule concessions at the bargaining table." Some of the issues on which it says progress has been "negligible" include health care, wages, workplace safety and flexibility, workloads and paid time off.

The picket is scheduled to take place outside the BDS headquarters, 177 Livingston St. in Brooklyn, at 1:15 p.m. Nearly 200 employees picketed there back in May.

Rita Akincilar, an organizer with the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, said BDS has refused to adopt a step scale system that would get experience and a cost-of-living adjustment credit into raises every year.

"We've even come and compromised and proposed a solution that would ensure raises that would cover both experience and cover inflation, but they still are proposing salaries that are sub other offers from other organizations that are comparable," she said.

Management said this month that it would resume negotiations on economic issues like health care and wages after it previously asked to pause the talks while it waited to receive its budget allotment from New York City, according to the union.

"We have worked very hard through this entire session in Albany and at the city level to get more resources for our work because the city and the state are not properly funding us," Lisa Schreibersdorf, BDS' executive director, told Law360 Pulse on Tuesday.

Akincilar maintains that employees have not asked for anything out of line with other public defender services.

"We're asking for on-par salaries, on-par health insurance expenses, from other organizations," she said. "They have been telling us that they're getting more information from the city and state on funding and yet have declined to share any more financial information with that. We've asked for them to disclose their finances. They've refused to do so."

Schreibersdorf said she doesn't blame staff members for feeling frustrated.

"We're trying to work with them, and I think they're working with us," she said. "This is just a way to put extra pressure, which — I don't mind that they're doing it, but I don't think it's going to accomplish the goal of getting more money from the city or getting an answer from the state about exactly how much money PDS is getting out of a fund that they set aside."

The union noted that a previous attempt to unionize in 2015-2016 failed, which it said led to a mass exit from staff. When the union tried again years later, it said, management at first said it would recognize the union, then changed its position at the urging of 60 employees to indicate it would not recognize a union.

One sticking point in negotiations has been telecommuting. Management has made temporarily available offers twice for employees to spend three days a week in the office and receive Metropolitan Transportation Authority MetroCards, according to the union.

"We recently offered them, even just on a temporary basis while we finalize this negotiation, that if they agree to three days a week in the office, we'll give them MetroCards, which is something they want," Schreibersdorf said. "And we're willing to do it. We're willing to do it on a six-month basis now so that we can get ourselves through the rest of this bargaining."

But the union said management withdrew the offer for three in-person days a week and a MetroCard on July 11, saying that was only an interim proposal and that it would submit a new one.

"As it turns out, management had hastily put together that in-office telecommuting proposal when they realized that BDS employees had joined the negotiations in open bargaining, and they wanted to look like they were making concessions," the union alleged in a press release.

Akincilar said BDS used to offer MetroCards, but that was suspended in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said management wants the union to drop its telecommuting proposal entirely in order to have the MetroCards reinstated.

"That would mean that we would give up our right to have telecommuting at all in the future of this contract, which they themselves have said in a counter they provided to us yesterday, that every six months, they would be able to review … the telecommuting policy, and they would be able to increase it to five days a week again," she said.

--Editing by Robert Rudinger.

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