Asian Americans Advancing Justice Ratifies First Contract

After a nearly two-year fight, the members of Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (AAAJ) ratified their first Union contract on May 11, 2020. 

Asian Americans Advancing Justice has been a leading public interest law and civil rights agency for over 30 years in Southern California. In 2017, lawyers, paralegals, administrative staff, social workers, community organizers and ESL instructors from AAAJ began organizing with Council 36. By mid-2018, a strong majority petitioned and won voluntary union recognition from management. We always hope that when management voluntary recognizes a Union they would bargain in good faith and work quickly to negotiate a fair contract. However, this was not the case with AAAJ. In the middle of negotiations, management announced a major financial deficit that led to layoffs. By Fall 2019, half of the staff , including several organizing leaders and negotiations committee members, had been laid off. 

A few weeks later, the Union staged a large rally and picket line at the AAAJ-LA office on Wilshire Blvd to protest the anti-union layoffs and advocate for a fair contract.  Joining the picket was Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, representatives from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, the Asian Pacific Labor Alliance, and many other community organizations, unions, AFSCME members and AAAJ-LA clients. AAAJ members also staged a protest outside the agency's annual fund-raising gala.

Even through all of the turmoil, AAAJ members remained strong and kept fighting for a fair contract. The negotiations team continued to bargain even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of their hard work paid off and they were finally able to reach an agreement with management. "The first contract will always be the hardest but I believe that we have finally laid down the framework for the future generations of workers at Advancing Justice.  Even though this was a 2 year fight to us to get this contract, this is the end of a 20 year struggle for the workers that stood before us to finally establish a union at this organization.  I truly believe that this is a monumental moment for the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander movement and we were all able to be a part of its rich history. It’s only fitting that we were able to get this contract signed during the AANHPI heritage month as we honor the leaders before us,” says AAAJ Negotiations Committee Leader Vincent Chou.

Their first contract includes:

  • Just Cause Protection for Discipline and Discharge. No longer “At-will” employees; High legal standard for management to prove that discipline or discharge meet “just cause” requirement.
  • Seniority Rights and Grievance Procedure with binding arbitration to resolve contract disputes.
  • Safety Conditions: The right to file grievances over unsafe working conditions, including appeals to binding arbitration if necessary. 
  • Wages: two percent increases per year through 2021. Includes retroactive pay back to January 1, 2019 for all current staff and co-workers who were laid off in October 2019.
  • Wage Reopener Negotiations set for 2022 and 2023. Merit increases for up to an additional 3 percent.
  • Health Insurance: Limited increases in Kaiser co-pays and employee contributions to monthly premiums. AAAJ agrees to maintain comparable overall benefits for life of this agreement. Maintain current dental and vision benefits.
  • Paid Sick Leave : Improved to 80 hours at start of calendar year for full time staff (up from current 40 hours) with 120 hour cap. Current staff with over 120 hours of sick leave will retain those extra hours in their accrual bank.
  • Vacations: Increase in vacation accruals for long-term staff. Maintain current benefit for all others.
  • Paid Holidays: Add paid days off between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve.
  • Other CBA guaranteed rights and benefits include improvements in bereavement leave, retirement benefits, paid memberships in professional organizations, paid sabbatical leave, state bar examination leave, paid parental leave (6 weeks) and Labor Management Committee meetings to maintain on-going voice on the job.

From the AAAJ Workers' Union:

The fight is not over. While we acknowledge that this is the best contract given the current circumstances, we also know we deserve better in the future. Specifically, we will be advocating for true affordable health coverage for all; including dependents and family members.

We also want to support other nonprofits who are organizing for workers' rights. We have learned that the nonprofit industrial complex is very real. While "nonprofits" don't make profits from their services, that is not an excuse to exploit workers of their passion. Gives us fair wages. We demand true Health for All.

When we fight for ourselves, we fight for our community.

Special recognition goes to the following campaign organizers and negotiations committee members and AAAJ-LA alumni: Chris Lapinig, John Trang, Yanin Senachai, Natalie Bui, Minju Cho, Yanzie Chow, Eddie Flores, Agustin Herrera, Alice Li, Anthony Ng, Caleb Song, Alison Vu, Marianna Yamamoto and Billy Yates.

Super recognition goes to current Negotiations Committee members – Vincent Chou, Alice Chan, Shelly Chen and Donna Tang for stepping into leadership roles post- layoffs to carry the campaign to the finish line!

We’d also like to thank Bet Tzedek Legal Services Union leaders, (AFSCME Local 946) Matt DeCarolis and Nichloas Levenhagen for their support and guidance from the very start of the organizing efforts. Marc Bender, former Local 946 President and current AFSCME District Council 36 Legal Advocate and DC 36 Organizing Director Ling Esangga were also instrumental in supporting the campaign.

Apologies if we left anyone out. Thank you to everyone that has been involved in this process! Fight On.