Staff of the largest nonprofit pro bono law firm in the nation joins AFSCME – read about the journey through the eyes of a worker

In a tremendous labor victory, the staff of the largest pro bono nonprofit law firm in the nation, Public Counsel, has just elected to form a union and join AFSCME District Council 36. With a vote count taking place late yesterday, the employees were elated. 

But the road was never easy. Their union organizing effort started nearly two years ago, when an initial handful of employees came together to discuss common problems in the workplace. Determined to create better working conditions and a democratic process of management decision-making for themselves and their co-workers, the group considered their options. Finally, they concluded that a union was the solution -- and soon afterward began spreading the word at work. 

Liza Davis, a six-year attorney at Public Counsel, says the whole experience was a personal journey -- which she eloquently relays in the following statement (edited for length) she released after the votes were counted. Others on the organizing committee have said they feel very much the same way.

Before this process started, I didn’t know what a union was.  I’m an immigrant from Guatemala and am the first generation to get a professional degree.  My parents own small businesses that they continue to work hard to sustain.  I come from a world where you are grateful to have a job, where paid time off or health care is asking for too much.  This mentality is why it took me so long to realize the need for a union at Public Counsel. 

I have worked at Public Counsel since the day before I passed the California Bar Exam.  Public Counsel is where I grew up, where I learned the ins and outs of work as a non-profit attorney in Los Angeles, and the place that I’ve called home my entire legal career.  When I started working at Public Counsel, I had an immense sense of gratitude—gratitude for the amazing opportunity to work at such a highly regarded organization surrounded by people who are intelligent and dedicated to using their education for good.  This gratitude remains, but alongside the greatness in this organization, I saw a need for uplifting.  For uplifting voices that have gone unheard.  For uplifting each other in a space of community, solidarity, and democracy.  And for uplifting our institutional practices to emulate what we fight for outside our walls.

We met with similar organizations that had recently unionized and others that have been unionized for decades.  We researched. We compared notes.  Although our individual reasons for forming a union at Public Counsel were many, we all had a shared vision—that our union, our collective voice, could make our great organization even greater.  This year, we began to discuss what we had discovered with the rest of our colleagues.

Today’s election came quicker than expected, but we won.  We fought for this union, this voice, and we won.  We fought for each other, collectively, and we won.  We stood together as one, and we won.  We unionized for fairness, for value, and in furtherance of the mission that we stand for as employees of Public Counsel—equity and a voice for all.  

The Public Counsel union follows on the heels of two other nonprofit law firms that recently affiliated with Council 36.  We know all of Council 36’s Locals join us in warmly welcoming the newest affiliate to AFSCME!