Monthly Archives: November 2006

2006.11.29: Vote No (Legal Aid)

Vote No
By Michael Letwin
November 29, 2006

In defense of another indisputably bad contract, the leadership and its supporters have interjected such irrelevancies as how hard the Bargaining Committee has worked (which nobody has questioned) or complaints that they have been subject to unfair “personal attacks” (which nobody has made).

These just evade the real issue: Has the Union done everything possible to squeeze the best possible offer from management?

It’s clear from our own Union’s history that what happens at the bargaining table only reflects a balance of power. That balance depends on organizing at least the credible *threat* of membership action. Only by exerting that pressure can we be sure of extracting the best possible offer. Otherwise, it’s like trying to negotiate a plea when the D.A. already knows that your client won’t go to trial.

The leadership also misleadingly asserts that the only choices are surrender (which it advocates) or a suicidal strike. In fact, there are many forms of membership pressure short of a full strike: informational pickets, rallies, press conferences, one-day job actions, to name just a few — none of which has been seriously discussed, let alone carried out. It was to illustrate the potential for such action that the 1992 contract strategy evaluation was attached to a previous message.

By all means, we must fight the scab (non-union RFP) contractors. But why ratify a *bad* contract (the written memorandum of agreement for which we have yet to see) — without having even tried to mobilize membership pressure necessary to win the *best* possible contract?

2006.11.20: Re: Unauthorized and Risky Picket (Legal Aid)

From: Michael Letwin
Sent: Monday, November 20, 2006 1:41 PM
To: James Rogers; ALAA MEMBERS
Subject: Re: Unauthorized and Risky Picket

Last Wednesday afternoon, Jim Rogers broadcast the e-mail below asserting that “certain ALAA Members are involved in the planning and carrying out of tonight’s unauthorized picket by some 1199 Members at the Annual LAS Boardof [sic] Directors Meeting.” That, he claimed, “will seriously jeopardize the most recent efforts to improve the Board’s offer to our union,” so “[a]ll ALAA Members are strongly encouraged to not participate.”

His statement is wrong both factually, and as a matter of principle.

The facts are that last Tuesday morning, 1199 members voted by nearly 60 percent to reject management’s latest contract offer. At the end of the vote, a group of 1199 members discussed distributing a leaflet at Legal Aid’s annual meeting on Wednesday night. In the spirit of solidarity, I forwarded that leaflet to the ALAA e-list; to my knowledge, ALAA members neither planned nor participated in that leafleting.

As a matter of principle, it is unconscionable for an ALAA president to denigrate efforts by sister-union members to fight for a fair contract.  Equally damaging, it reflects a dead-end policy of disarming our own union in exchange for a contract that still doesn’t include retro pay or meaningful increases above step five, and which still sharply limits or denies the use of comp time to most attorneys — the third round in an astounding series of give-backs in just three years.

The refusal to even speak up about such issues at the annual meeting echoes and surpasses Rogers’ February 2005 public declaration — without membership discussion, vote or even knowledge  —  that “strikes. . . . won’t happen on my watch.”

Our own history offers better alternatives.  In 1992, for example, ALAA and 1199 were “United in Spirit, United in Action” behind a “no contract, no work,” policy, backed up by a joint “inside” campaign of informational pickets, one-day strikes and a wide range of other public action.

As detailed in the attached union document from the 1993 Bargaining Committee, that rank-and-file orientation gave us necessary muscle at the bargaining table to beat back management’s demands for give-backs and to extract the best possible terms — without the need for an all-out strike.

Yes, as we saw in 1994, there are risks in standing up.  And yes, we face threats now that we didn’t then.  But surrender without a fight only ensures that management will keep coming back for more.

Let’s reclaim our legacy as a fighting, democratic union, and creatively adapt it to current conditions.  And let’s demand that union leadership stop sabotaging, and start organizing, solidarity and resistance.