When it comes to advocating for its members, SEIU 888 goes to great lengths to ensure the employment and bargaining rights of its members are protected. Sometimes, that requires a legal remedy. To that end, elected officers at the local are constantly looking for partners in advocacy. Here, one such partner, attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan from the law firm Lichten & Liss-Riordan, discusses their work with SEIU 888 and the working people the union seeks to support.
As an attorney at Lichten & Liss-Riordan, what is your area of focus?
Lichten & Liss-Riordan is a nationally recognized law firm that is dedicated to vindicating the rights of workers around the country through class action and individual litigation. As a team, we’ve built a name for ourselves in advocating for working people. My specific area of focus is in labor, employment, and class action litigation.
How did your firm first develop a relationship with SEIU 888?
President Tom McKeever reached out to our firm shortly after he stepped into his role. There were a number of somewhat tricky issues involving both members and workers who wanted to talk to SEIU
888 about organizing. Tom was adamant about helping both groups and came to us for guidance
on how best to help these folks in their individual legal challenges. For me, it was really striking to see
how committed he was to helping these workers ensure their rights were enforced. There was a lot of out-of-the-box thinking to begin helping people even ahead of them becoming full members. We don’t see that a lot.
What are some of the issues you observed?
We saw a number of issues. But most striking were employer efforts to cut off conversations between employees and the local. The law is really clear that employees have the right to speak to labor unions. In some cases, employers were threatening employees with termination for continuing to speak with SEIU 888. That’s simply not within the law. Through the effort of Tom and his team, we were able to get in and help stave off the employer threats and allow employees to keep conversations going.
Do you see this as a trend that is going to continue?
Unfortunately, yes. More and more people are seeking to unionize. Either because they don’t know the law or because they’re afraid of the power of locals like SEIU 888, some employers might resort to threat or fear tactics. That’s why having a partner like this local - who can help connect workers to resources - is so important.
From your perspective, how helpful is having a union in your corner?
It’s immensely helpful. As a law firm, we are ready to stand up for workers and their rights. But with union members, a number of things kick in that we clearly see benefiting clients. First is cost. The union is there to support the legal needs of their members, so they don’t have to worry about bills or contracts or really any of that. Second is expertise. These folks aren’t on their own. They have a team who knows their contract and their rights inside and out. And finally - and perhaps most importantly - is the solidarity. Oftentimes, we meet people when they are experiencing some form of hardship. Having a group of people in your corner is not just a strategic advantage, it helps to lessen the emotional and psychological toll of a high-stakes situation.