New York Public Defender Union Approves Gaza Cease-Fire Resolution

More than a thousand public defenders and other legal and social service workers voted for the resolution.

A union representing thousands of New York City public defenders and other legal and social service workers voted Tuesday to approve a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, Local 2325 of the United Auto Workers, announced in a statement that the resolution passed with a vote of 1,067-570. More than half of the union’s roughly 2,700 members participated in the vote.

The vote came after weeks of conflict over the resolution, including a lawsuit to prevent the vote and claims from management that the resolution could put funding for public defenders at risk.

In addition to calling for an immediate cease-fire, the resolution calls for an end to Israeli “apartheid,” endorses the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and declares the union’s opposition to all existing and future military aid to Israel.

Last month, a previous vote on the resolution was halted by a New York judge’s temporary restraining order less than an hour before it was scheduled to conclude. Four attorneys from the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, also members of the ALAA, had sued to prevent the vote. They argued that tallying votes on the resolution would undermine their ability to “provide proper and constitutionally-mandated representation to all of its clients, including and especially as it relates to the matters addressed herein, Jewish clients,” according to court documents.

Attorneys for the union argued in response that the plaintiffs “appear to be grasping at a rationale to justify suppressing speech they find offensive,” and that the resolution constituted protected political speech just as unions often endorse candidates for political office, according to a separate court filing.

On Dec. 1, the case was moved to federal court. On Friday, a federal judge granted the union’s motion to dissolve the state judge’s temporary restraining order.

The lawsuit wasn’t the only obstacle, though. Multiple public defense organizations, including the Bronx Defenders and the Legal Aid Society (the oldest and largest legal service provider in the country), put out statements distancing themselves from their employees’ union activity, with the latter alleging that the ALAA resolution was “laden with coded antisemitic language.”

Twyla Carter, CEO of the Legal Aid Society, warned in a staff meeting that an affirmative vote on the union resolution could risk funding for the organization’s civil practice. She told staff attorneys that four law firms that had funded the practice in the past were “reevaluating ― their words, not mine ― their commitment.” (A Legal Aid Society spokesperson declined to comment on Tuesday’s vote.)

Still, public defenders in favor of the resolution were bolstered by a major development between the halted initial vote and Tuesday’s successful passage of the resolution. Earlier this month, United Auto Workers, ALAA’s parent union, became the largest union in the country to call for a cease-fire in the conflict.

“From opposing fascism in WWII to mobilizing against apartheid South Africa and the CONTRA war, the UAW has consistently stood for justice across the globe,” Brandon Mancilla, director of UAW Region 9A, said in a statement. “That is why I am proud that the UAW International is today officially calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Palestine.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, the ALAA put its own vote in the context of the union’s decades-long history of social justice activism, sharing in a statement:

We opposed apartheid in South Africa, campaigned for Temporary Protected Status for Guatemalan unionists, marched against police violence in New York City and across the United States, and have demanded the end of US military aid to the Philippines. Just last year, our membership overwhelmingly voted in support of Palestinian liberation and called on the UAW International to divest itself from any and all Israel bonds. ALAA has not and will not shy away from taking a stance on issues of concern to our membership, and doing so in a manner which emphasizes maximum democratic participation. Democracy cannot exist when actions are restrained by court order.

On Wednesday, Naomi Schachter, a member of UAW 2325 Labor for Palestine, a coalition in the ALAA, said the success of the resolution in the face of efforts to “squash union support” had strengthened members’ resolve.

“Palestinian liberation is inherently intertwined with our own, and Palestinian resilience and steadfastness are virtues which we should aim to embody individually and collectively to build a better world for us all,” Schachter said in a statement shared with HuffPost. “To that end, our resolution is an act of resilience and steadfastness.”

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