Legal Aid Society paralegal Brianda Guzman leads protesters in a lunch hour picket in Melrose on June 11. By Christine Zeiger.

Paralegals, social workers and support staff for the Bronx chapter of the Legal Aid Society took to the streets Wednesday, demanding higher wages and flexible working conditions.

Members of SEIU 1199 picketed outside the Legal Aid Society’s office on 161st Street in Melrose, to protest the agency’s offer to raise salaries by just one percent. In ongoing contract negotiations, workers also say they want to keep the current policy for remote work, allowing workers to telecommute as needed, according to a spokesperson for the union.

The Legal Aid Society is a nonprofit organization that receives funding from city government, as well as public grants and private donations. The organization provides free legal representation to low-income New Yorkers across the five boroughs, in criminal proceedings, housing and immigration, and child services and protection, among other areas.

Staff has been working under an expired contract for two years. The last contract expired in June 2022.

Brianda Guzman, a paralegal in the in the Bronx office, opened SEIU 1199’s rally on Tuesday with a chant: “One percent won’t pay the rent!” she shouted to her fellow protesters.

Guzman  advocates for tenants living in buildings with violations that pose health and safety threats, working with them to file claims against landlord who fail to make repairs.

For Guzman, who grew up n Hunts Point, the work is personal. She grew up in an area with gas stations and factories, and very few green spaces. While attending middle school in middle class Throggs Neck, she learned that higher income neighborhoods have more access to resources than her own.

“I’m here because I want my community to be healthy and to thrive,” she said. “I want to tap the resources and tools to take back our blocks, our communities, and our neighborhoods.”

If workers’ demands are not met, and SEIU workers continue striking during working hours, longtime social worker Terry Emeterio worries about the impact that no free legal services will have on Bronx residents.

“Who’s going to suffer? Our clients,” she said. “The courts won’t suffer, and the attorneys won’t suffer. We have so many cases we can’t even get to, and we get paid chump change.”

Audrey Martin, a spokeswoman for the Legal Aid Society, said contract negotiations are ongoing, and the agency is committed to meeting staffers’ need for heightened pay and improved working conditions.

“We have, and will continue to advocate for additional resources so we can pay our staff the wages they deserve for their invaluable work,” she said. “We remain in bargaining and will continue to discuss these topics together around the bargaining table.”

About Post Author