A Brooklyn public defenders organization has voted to unionize.

Employees at Brooklyn Defender Services, a public defender organization that represents thousands of New Yorkers who cannot afford an attorney, have voted to unionize.

71% of non-managerial workers voted in support unionizing under Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA) – UAW Local 2325, which will be their bargaining representatives. Now, union representatives said, contract negotiations will be begin with their employer.

Andrew Lyubarsky, an attorney in the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, said it was inspiring to see a majority of his colleagues come together after the year-long effort.

“This tremendous victory through the collective action of our colleagues across roles and practice areas epitomizes the spirit of public defense — that all of us are needed, that every voice is vital, as we work toward a more just society.”

In a press release, UAW Local 2325 – Assoc. of Legal Aid Attorneys said over the following weeks, all non-managerial staff at BDS would be invited to have their say in the structuring of the Union, beginning with the organization and election of a Bargaining Committee. Once elected, the Bargaining Committee would lead staff in identifying collective goals and making sure that employees reach a favorable contract with BDS, the statement said.

Lisa Ohta, President of the Association of the Legal Aid Attorneys – UAW Local 2325 said the union would allow BDS staff to better serve their colleagues, clients and the community.

“Continuing to organize and unionize workers at public defense offices will only improve the working conditions and the services we provide to our clients,” she said.

“Five out of the six trial-level public defense offices in New York City have now courageously formed unions to change the playing field for public defenders. We are so excited to welcome the BDS Union as the newest chapter of ALAA.”

Earlier this year, attorneys and social workers at Queens Defenders voted to unionize. Not long after election was certified, the union filed a retaliation complaint charging the Queens Defenders with wrongfully firing two staff members who supported the union effort, after management vocally opposed the union drive.  

At the time, Councilmember Brad Lander said it was “always rotten when bosses union bust, but extra galling when a legal service organization does it.”

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