VIDEO: Lawyers for the poor explain reasons for strike

Some 200 lawyers and other employees of the city’s largest provider of civil legal services have been on strike for nearly a month, protesting benefit cuts they say will hurt the organization’s ability to provide quality legal counsel to poor families.

Legal Services NYC’s union employees had been working without a contract since July 2012 up until last month, when they walked off the job after rejecting an offer that would have slashed their health care benefits.

The non-profit works to protect tens of thousands of low-income clients from eviction, foreclosure, domestic violence, deportation and loss of public benefits. It expects to lose about a third of its federal funding by 2015 due to the sequester.

“Our health insurance costs are the highest among comparable organizations in the City,” a post on the LSNYC Web site explained. “This combination of funding cuts and high health insurance expenses forced us to reduce staff by 40 people in 2012. Unless we take action to reduce costs now, we will be forced to make many more layoffs by the end of 2014.”

But the striking lawyers have argued that shifting revenue sources come with the territory in nonprofit work, pointing out that LSNYC still expects over $10 million in working capital surplus at the close of 2013.

A number of LSNYC lawyers, paralegals and other supporting staff teamed together to produce a video explaining their reasons for striking, arguing that the proposed cuts to benefits would hurt the organization’s ability to attract quality legal talent—and keep it long enough for the lawyers to gain a real understanding of the communities they serve.

“Everybody deserves a good, qualified, experienced attorney, especially in civil matters where there is no right to counsel,” said Maura McHugh Mills, an LSNYC staff attorney based in the Bronx.

Follow Emily Johnson on Twitter @emilyjreports


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