Jewish Journal

Seeking a pay increase, Bet Tzedek employees picket

by Ryan Torok

June 21, 2011 | 5:05 pm

On June 14, employees at Bet Tzedek, a Jewish legal-service organization, demonstrated in front of the organization’s office at 145 S. Fairfax Ave., calling for higher wages. Bet Tzedek — which means “House of Justice” in Hebrew — is a nonprofit that provides free legal services to Jews and non-Jews in Los Angeles.

The Bet Tzedek employees — lawyers, legal secretaries, paralegals and clerical workers — want pay increases of approximately 2 percent, according to Marc Bender, an attorney at Bet Tzedek and president of Bet Tzedek Legal Services Union, which has 54 members. 

“We’re not asking for the moon,” Bender said. “We feel that Bet Tzedek can afford that.” The employees’ health care and pensions are also at stake, but the dispute over the wage increase has been the focus of the dispute.

As of June 15, Bet Tzedek management had agreed to an approximately 1 percent raise for its employees, Bender said.

Bet Tzedek CEO and president Sandor Samuels, who has been negotiating directly with the firm’s employees on behalf of management, would not confirm the percentages but said the employees have asked for a higher pay increase than management can afford.

“We are trying to properly balance what our employees would like with our ability to make sure that we can raise the money to operate at this point,” Samuels said.

“I’m looking forward to both sides getting back to the negotiating table so we can this thing resolved.”

As with many nonprofits, the economic downturn has affected the Bet Tzedek employees’ pay. In 2009, their wages were reduced, but in January 2011 they were reinstated to the level that they were prior to the recession.

As of last week, Bet Tzedek employees were not considering striking and expressed hope that their demands will be met.

“We’re hoping the informational picket will break the log-jam,” Bender said of the action, which drew approximately half of Bet Tzedek’s union members.

The nonmanagerial employees of Bet Tzedek have not received raises since 2008. The employees receive different pay but are subject to the same contract terms. Negotiations began six months ago, after nonmanagement employees’ contracts expired in January. Since then, the negotiations have been ongoing.

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