Recently, the eight-week long civil lunchtime picket at the Williamsburg Legal Services office evolved into a full-scale labor brawl, complete with demonstrators, counter-leafletters, barricades–and cops.
There are serious issues behind the public squabble: Through their regular pickets, Legal Services attorneys have been putting pressure on Project Director Marty Needelman, who they say has put too much money into newly-created and highly-paid management jobs while simultaneously demoting valuable workers. And there’s a bigger drama looming: In June, union contracts for all Legal Services chapters will be expiring.
But last week, the scene on Broadway was confusing at best. Counter-demonstrators showed up with bullhorns and leaflets of their own in defense of Needelman, who they say is being smeared by the unionized staff. “They shouldn’t be out here ruining Marty’s name,” said Gladys Ferra. Blue police barricades separated the two placard-wearing camps as both handed out flyers to the the occasional Hasidic passersby.
Union reps charge that Needelman himself arranged the counterpicket–a claim his supporters denied. “When we found out Marty was being attacked, we decided to show up and support him,” insisted Debora Medina, a supporter from local nonprofit Los Sures, where Needelman is on the board.
But in the midst of these hostilities, Legal Services staff rushed to save the boss from the clutches of the cops. On March 10, a local policeman came into the Legal Services office to serve papers on a union member for a completely unrelated legal dispute. Needelman, in true Legal Services form, needled the cops by repeatedly insisting they “treat [the employee] like a human being.”
“In the cops’ mind, he was mouthing off,” said lawyer Susan Sokol. Needelman was promptly cuffed and arrested and taken to the nearby 90th precinct–followed en masse by a horde of his employees protesting the arrest, who stuck around until late in the afternoon to make sure he got out.
Come Monday, they were back on the picket line. “It’s never a dull moment at Brooklyn Legal Services,” quipped lawyer William Muniz.
But his supervisor, Susan Sokol, was disappointed. “I was hoping that maybe Marty would have this epiphany and start treating us better,” she sighed. “I guess it was not to be.”