NEW YORK, NY – DETROIT, MI – SAN ANTONIO, HOUSTON, SAN MARCOS, TX – Across the nation, hundreds of workers at the Neighborhood Defender Service and their allies mobilized last week in support of a new collective bargaining agreement. The 200 workers are attorneys, social workers, paralegals, investigators, clerical staff, are represented by the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA) – UAW Local 2325, which first won union representation at NDS in 2019. The Union’s contract campaign, titled, “Fulfill the Promise of Public Defense” has won the support of workers and communities as negotiations intensify.
On July 25 in Detroit, workers rallied outside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, chanting, “When NDS clients are under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight Back!”. Community members, autoworkers, and others joined in to spread the message before the bargaining committee headed into a negotiation session with management.
On July 26, NDS Texas workers, who are stationed in multiple locations throughout the state, held a virtual picket where they came together to share their struggles and discuss negotiations. They were joined by public defenders throughout the country.
To wrap up the nation-wide week of action, over a hundred NDS workers in New York City, held an informational picket outside NDS’ downtown offices where their union siblings from other offices joined the picket line in solidarity.
Despite several months of bargaining, NDS and the Union have failed to reach a new agreement, and the Union has been working under an expired contract since July 1, 2023. Front and center among the Union’s concerns are improving conditions for NDS employees such that NDS clients can continue to receive stellar representation. The Union has been vocal about the huge attrition that NDS has suffered in the past years which has led to disruption in client’s cases and difficulty in attracting new workers. In order to reverse attrition and provide the highest quality representation to clients, the Union has proposed competitive compensation, enforceable workload standards, and sustainable workplace flexibility.
While the Union’s bargaining committee has stayed laser focused on achieving a fair contract and delivering excellent representation to clients, NDS has continued to chase public defense contracts across the country. Even last week, instead of focusing on wrapping up a contract covering all of its current employees, NDS was bidding for its first public defense contract in Schuyler County, New York.
“Time and time again, management has scoffed at our demands and insisted we prove to them that the status quo isn’t working. Yet meeting after meeting, management has failed to prove to the union that this organization cares about its employees and the communities we claim to serve” said Cody Bradford, Staff Attorney at NDS Detroit. “Rather, NDS, Inc. is more interested in winning contracts across the country at the expense of its existing workers and the communities we’ve already made promises to. We are at a breaking point. It’s past time that management came to these bargaining sessions to work with the union instead of fighting us.”
“Management’s continued disinterest and unwillingness to bargain in good faith affects not only employees but also clients. Management seems to think that social workers, lawyers, advocates, administrators, and all employees at NDS should bear the burden of the work, and that there is no way to fix it” said Naomi Schachter, Social Worker at NDS Harlem. “This does not have to be the status quo – membership has reasonable demands to fix these problems, but management has failed to take them seriously. We cannot provide zealous and world-class representation without fair pay, caseload caps, and flexibility. We call on management to come to the bargaining table in good faith, for the sake of their employees and our clients.”
“What we do is extremely important in helping uphold people’s constitutional rights, but our rights don’t seem to matter to management right now and we need their support to better represent clients,” said Ringo Bosley, Staff Attorney at NDS Texas. “I hope they will listen and come prepared and ready with proposals and counter proposals that truly help us bring about a better future for NDS staff and our clients.”
NDS workers will continue their fight for a contract and are ready to escalate if necessary to achieve justice for their membership and clients.