My name is Diane Uduebor. I have been working in legal services for decades. I am proud of the work I do and my whole career. I have worked for law firms in D.C. that were the national leaders in the field. And my name may not have been on all the pleadings and court paper filings, but my work and my effort and my expertise made it all possible.
I am now working for the legal aid in Cincinnati. And since COVID hit the support staff at Legal Aid have been hit hard. People are desperate and when they don’t know where to turn they turn to legal aid. Where I work we answer the phones and hear the stories of people at the edge, just trying to survive. And the stress is unbelievable. A lot of times there is nothing that Legal Aid can do, so that makes the job harder, knowing that the agency isn’t going to be able to help most of the people who call. (But that is another story !)
Well with all the pressure building in the community under COVID the support staff at Legal Aid was really feeling the pressure. And for a lot of us, we hit a breaking point when the support staff, which is almost all Black women and Latina women, were the only ones forced back into the office under the pandemic. All the attorneys and managers were allowed to work remotely. All the support staff were told “to come into the salt mines.” We didn’t like that. Especially my girl Nora. Nora is on the phone and can’t be here in person. But she rallied us. We got in touch with a lawyer. When you are going to negotiate with lawyers, well, you better have a few of your own. And that’s how I ended up here at the Interfaith Workers Center. Here I learned some things. A lot of them I already knew. But I needed a reminder. And the encouragement.
So here is what we did. We formed a committee . It was called the Support Staff Committee for Racial Justice at Legal Aid.
And Nora and I were the leaders of that committee. We circulated petitions and grew the committee. And we made demands. We wanted information and we wanted change and we put all this together in a letter. Even if there wasn’t a union at Legal Aid, we could still work together and organize as a team that stayed together and protected one another.
It was all very dramatic. At the end of a staff meeting, with the whole organization together – support staff, attorneys, management, everyone. Nora got up and handed the demands to the director of Legal Aid.
We wanted raises and we wanted someone to look at the history of discrimination at the organization, discrimination in a lot of areas: pay, benefits, remote work permissions. All of it.
Well, Nora presented our demands. From that moment on things began to change. And we don’t have paradise there now. There is a lot to do. But we won across the board wage increases for the entire support staff. And Legal Aid hired an outside racial equity auditor. And this was someone we vetted and approved of. And the work of our committee continues. We don’t have a union there yet, but we are organized and learning that united we bargain and divided we beg.