NYC Attys Protest Court Legal Services Demands Amid COVID

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Law360 (September 10, 2021, 9:41 p.m. EDT) –

Legal Services NYC employees march on a picket line outside the executive director’s apartment to protest the organization’s handling of the COVID security. (Emily Lever | Law360)

Employees of Legal Services NYC, the largest provider of civil legal services in the United States, picketed their boss’s Manhattan apartment on Friday to protest “unnecessary and dangerous in-person appearances” in latest battle led by unions for COVID-19 security.

Members of the Legal Services Staff Association (UAW 2320) marched on a picket line in front of Executive Director Ron Rasmussen’s building before lying on the sidewalk, staging their own deaths, for 54 seconds, a reference to the 54,000 people who died from COVID -19 in New York State. Their demand was that the LSNY leadership grant more exemptions to lawyers and rely on the judiciary to prevent it from requiring litigants to physically appear in court for routine appearances in civil cases.

“We just want to strongly push back against being sacrificial lambs, with our clients, to the idea that we are getting back to normal,” Steward Natalie James, one of the main organizers of the action, told Law360. . “The absurdity of these in-person court appearances is part of this magical thinking, this unrealistic and unnecessary push to get back to normal in the Delta Age.”

New York City courthouses are cramped, poorly ventilated, unsafe for COVID, and globally dangerous to the health of lawyers, their clients, and people living with them to whom they could bring home an infection, according to the protesters, who held signs shaped like tombstones – and in one case, a cardboard replica of a coffin – to drive the point home.

In the union’s view, the judiciary is reckless about COVID safety, given the continuing nature of the pandemic and the success of remote appearances for routine proceedings, and LSNY is failing its employees by not using its influence to get the justice system to pump the brakes.

Housing lawyer Lailah Hanit Pepe holds her son’s oxygen tank as she addresses colleagues on the need for greater attention to the risk of COVID. (Emily Lever | Law360)

“It defies science, it defies safety,” said housing lawyer Lailah Hanit Pepe, whose son has pulmonary hypertension, putting him at risk if he contracts COVID-19. “If I ever have to put my son in danger after all the sacrifices we have made, it does not make sense amid the growing cases of the delta variant.”

Hanit Pepe hoisted her son’s oxygen tank with the breathing tubes attached.

“If you don’t have one in your closet, you don’t understand,” she said.

LSNY management could not immediately be reached for comment.

It was not the first time that LSNY leadership heard of the problem. Members of the COVID bargaining unit have met with management on several occasions and heard testimony from employees who have had negative experiences asking for reasonable accommodations to be exempted from in-person work. Union members also sent mass emails to Rasmussen and other members of management on Labor Day September 6 to step up pressure on the issue of reasonable accommodation.

The union described the reasonable accommodation process as “onerous”, too long and invasive. It also requires employees to prove they have a disability, but does not apply to people with risk factors for COVID, let alone their households, union members said.

“Reasonable housing does nothing for me, it does nothing for my children, it does nothing for my colleagues who live with elderly parents,” housing lawyer Vance Gathing told Law360.

“I haven’t been to court since March 2020 and won all of my cases remotely,” said Gathing, who suffers from a health condition that makes him more vulnerable to COVID-19 and two underage children to get vaccinated.

Union members voted 80% to reject the current framework of reasonable accommodation; the matter will now go to arbitration. If a new deal is not reached within two weeks, the policy will stand.

Asked for comment, the New York City court said criminal proceedings were also underway in person and suggested that as court officers, lawyers have a duty to intervene.

“Throughout the pandemic, our number one goal was to keep the judiciary open, operational and available, as the third branch of government, to the greatest extent possible. Currently, grand juries are sitting, trials are held and in-person arraignments in New York Criminal Court, “justice spokesman Lucian Chalfen told Law360.” There will always be a reason not to do so. something, how about looking for reasons to do something, that’s what judicial officers should be focusing on. ”

–Edited by Peter Rozovsky.

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