NYSUT Legal: Experience, expertise members can trust


YSUT’s Office of General Counsel employs more than two dozen attorneys who vigorously defend the rights of union members and also advance the causes of labor and public education through state and federal litigation.

NYSUT United sits down with Clayton E. Eichelberger, associate counsel at the OGC at the union’s Latham headquarters, and Jonah H. Feitelson, associate counsel at the New York City OGC.

Clayton E. Eichelberger and Jonah H. Feitelson's headshots in a black rectangle
Meet Clayton E. Eichelberger, left, and Jonah H. Feitelson, relatively junior NYSUT attorneys with no shortage of experience or dedication to unions, worker rights and education policy.
Q: You’re both relatively new to the union’s legal staff. What prior experience do you draw upon to assist NYSUT members?

Clayton Eichelberger: My entire career has been in the field of education. After law school, I worked as a registered lobbyist advocating, in part, for education funding for students in parochial schools. I next worked in the NYS Senate and served as Higher Education Counsel to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Additionally, I also am proud to say I am a UUP member and teach at SUNY Albany as an adjunct professor. I try to draw upon both my prior policy experience and my experience as an educator to be able to better serve NYSUT members.

Jonah Feitelson: I have worked in the labor movement since 2015. I worked as a union organizer for a number of years and when I went to law school I knew I wanted to continue this work. As an organizer, I spent lots of time talking to people about how they could build power through solidarity and a strong union contract. I would speak with non-union workers about the importance of just cause protection, strong wages and benefits and the ability to hold management accountable so that they had the tools to organize a union in their workplace. At NYSUT, a lot of my work centers around enforcing these rights. I know from experience just how important they are. As an organizer I would also talk to our members about how to grow the union’s power outside of the job by supporting pro-labor politicians and laws, something I also support in my role at NYSUT.

Q: What can NYSUT members expect when a matter is referred to OGC? 

CE: A wealth of experience. Even though I am one of the more junior attorneys in our office, I am in routine communication with the other OGC attorneys. Often it is this collective brain trust that we rely on to make sure we are providing our clients with the best advice and counsel.

JF: The amount of experience at OGC is unbelievable. I rarely am faced with a question or legal issue which one of my colleagues has not also dealt with. We are all able to draw on each other’s knowledge, and I think this allows us to continually build our capacities individually as attorneys and as an entire office. Members who reach out to OGC will get the benefit of this expertise.

Q: Litigation is only one aspect of your work. What else does NYSUT’s Legal department do? 

CE: Some examples that I have been involved with include advising on the potential impact of proposed NYS legislation, assisting in regulatory compliance questions to make sure the organization is following the law, and educating members about what is occurring in their issue areas at regional events.

JF: I’ve worked to enforce our members’ and our local unions’ First Amendment rights, advised members on how best to respond to the kind of attacks that more and more teachers have faced as classrooms have become politicized and worked to hold employers accountable for violations of the labor laws which protect employees from retaliation and ensure their right to bargain collectively.

Q: How does your work improve conditions for NYSUT members?

CE: A lot of our office’s work is focused on accountability — either the district attempting to hold a member accountable for perceived wrongdoing or the union trying to ensure that issues that members experience aren’t swept under the rug. I work to make sure that members’ due process rights are protected, and they get a full and fair opportunity to address any allegations against them. Overall, I think my work strengthens the union and, in some ways, helps to allow NYSUT to continue to push for an education system that gives every student a chance to succeed.

JF: Whether we are affirmatively trying to enforce laws or working to defend our members, our goal is to hold school districts accountable and put NYSUT members in the best position to be able to do their incredibly important work. We also work to support all of NYSUT’s other policy, electoral and organizing efforts.

Q: How do NYSUT members access OGC’s assistance?

CE: NYSUTs Regional Offices are excellent and the first resource to filter cases up to OGC. They often work closely with the local president and know exactly how to elevate matters in the most efficient way.

Q: What’s the benefit of using NYSUT OGC versus a private attorney?

JF: What you will get with OGC is the incredible amount of experience that we have in our office. It would be hard to find another attorney in New York with the kind of resources and expertise that we have at OGC for dealing with the kind of legal issues that NYSUT members deal with. Also, no matter how long a case lasts, NYSUT members never receive a bill.