Members at New York’s Legal Aid Society are getting ready to head to the negotiating table. At press time, talks for the 1199 bargaining unit’s next agreement with the social justice legal advocacy organization were set to start in late November. Legal Aid’s negotiating committee recently wrapped up the critical step of finalizing the bargaining unit’s contract demands.

1199SEIU represents 594 members at 15 Legal Aid sites throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Legal Aid workers help represent clients in a wide variety of areas including housing, immigration, criminal law, and juvenile justice. Members serve clients as paralegals, clericals, finance clerks, counselors and in many other capacities.

Legal Aid 1199ers have throughout the years been strong leaders and among the Union’s most militant trade unionists. A vibrant new group of young delegates at the organization is once again giving voice to members’ dedication and the importance of their work. Among them is Greta Aiken, a paralegal casehandler at the Society for two and a half years.

“Our main issue is definitely wages. Legal Aid was in a financial crisis and we didn’t get raises for seven years. We got minimal step increases,” says Aiken, who works in the organization’s Civil Division. “We love our work. We get amazing benefits, but as the years pass, it’s hard to move ahead financially.

People have a hard time moving forward. We are afraid to buy a home or have children.”

A well-attended chapter meeting at 1199’s Manhattan headquarters late October spilled out of the Union’s Bread & Roses Gallery. Delegate Zulay Oyarvide, a paralegal casehandler in the organization’s Housing Program was thrilled.

“We’re very strong. Everyone is talking to each other—the people who have been here for a while and the people who are new,” she says. “Everyone has brought new energy to the table.”