The staff said that Queens Defenders executive director Lori Zeno refused to recognize the union efforts of attorneys and social workers at the company.
Nearly 90 percent of eligible staff members signed cards in support of unionization with the Association of Legal Aid Attorney.
Queens Defenders is an organization that provides representation for low-income people facing legal action.
Outside of the courtroom, the company uses social workers to continue to provide outreach services to communities in Queens.
Social worker Betsy Vasquez said she was fired last Monday from Queens Defenders in retaliation for her public support of a union.
“My parents did not immigrate to this country, and I did not work tirelessly my whole life, so people in power like Lori Zeno can, on a whim, fire me and take away everything I’ve worked so hard to gain,” Vasquez said.
Anna Avalone, a single mother, recalled a meeting where she was berated and intimidated for her support of unionization. She was later fired from Queens Defenders.
“It was meant to instill fear, not only in myself, but to my colleagues and everyone that was in support of our union,” Avalone said.
State senators Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos, Assembly members Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Ron Kim, Zohran Mamdani, and Stacey Pheffer Amato, and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer are all demanding the employees be reinstated.
“We need to ensure that you have the right to live under safe and healthy working conditions and just working conditions,” Gonzalez-Rojas said. “We’re not going to rest until they have a collective bargaining agreement.”
“Terminating people in the middle of a pandemic is absolutely disgraceful,” Van Bramer added. “I am here to stand with every single person on this call.”
Borough President Donovan Richards released a statement urging Zeno to reinstate the employees.
“Queens Defenders’ attorneys and social workers work tirelessly to support our borough’s neediest,” Richards said. “It is time we support them.”