Learn More About Us!

Burgundy and white page header with the MDU and AFSCME Maryland logos

In the summer of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, we came together to form the Maryland Defenders Union (MDU), a union of attorneys, social workers, and support staff at OPD. We were concerned about OPD’s poor communication with us around the pandemic, and we wanted to see improvements in our workloads, compensation, and retention. We were also disappointed that OPD had not moved more quickly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. OPD’s town hall meetings had unintentionally been a wake-up call—highlighting both the department’s disorganization and all the injustices that support staff face.

Compensation is an issue for many of us, but especially for support staff. A single parent does not make a living wage. As a result, too many employees make the hard decision to work second jobs.

We were also motivated to form our union by workload issues. Some attorneys have been carrying caseloads that make it impossible to serve clients fairly. Core staff who are seeing “PINs” disappear far too often and are also too commonly themselves overloaded. As a result, many talented employees leave OPD.  


In August 2020, we went public as a union and began inviting hundreds of employees to unite in the MDU. We have been hugely successful and were certified in fall 2020 as AFSCME Local 423, an affiliate of AFSCME Council 3.

In January of 2021, we elected our first group of officers!

As president of the brand new MDU, AFSCME local 423, I am excited to work with all of you to make OPD a better place for all employees. In addition to being chartered as our own local in 2020 and signing up hundreds of new members, we have accomplished a great deal!

Our first order of business in 2020 was to bring awareness to the public health challenges facing our workers and clients in offices, courthouses, and jails. We built strong relationships with legislators and secured their help to fight for improvements. We spoke forcefully in public about unsafe conditions and appeared in newspapers, on the radio, and TV. Our meetings, webinars, and forums helped educate coworkers and the larger community about dangers to public safety that come from poor ventilation, inadequate barriers, and the lack of hazard assessments in the places where we are required to work. We also met with Paul DeWolfe to urge more effective action in addressing our health and safety and to provide him with tools to assess dangers in our work spaces . Our campaign will continue as long as necessary to ensure that our safety becomes the agency’s highest priority.

This year we are developing our campaign to win improvements in compensation, workloads, communications and career advancement. We are confident we will make progress on these issues, but to succeed fully, we need our membership to reach a majority so that we may win collective bargaining rights and a seat at the table with management. With collective bargaining, we will build the power to fight for step increases and raises that match those won by other AFSCME locals.

This year we have proposed legislation to win merit conversion for attorneys. Under our proposal, attorneys will receive greater job protection and will be covered by any future collective bargaining agreement. We also support legislation that will improve telework, and we will be fighting to restore our budget. We look forward to welcoming all of you into the MDU. With hundreds of united OPD workers, we can speak with one voice to transform the agency for the good of our families, our clients, and the public.

In solidarity,

Marci Tarrant Johnson

AFSCME represents public defenders in Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon and Washington; and represents professionals and support staff in Public Defender and Legal Aid offices in the states of Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.

Wherever workers organize “wall-to-wall,” they have more power to effect change and that’s what we want. Besides, we believe the whole OPD culture needs to change so that we communicate with each other clearly, retain employees, and build a culture of respect.

Building a big majority union is the single most important step we can take to be powerful. And we build a big majority by taking action on the issues that matter most to all of us. We are the union. Together, we build a reputation for voicing the real concerns of OPD employees and winning improvements, like improving communication and making our workplace safer. Ultimately, we will win a formal seat at the table to make changes with management. This legislative session, we’re taking action to convert the attorneys to merit status—that will give us the foundation we need to move ahead and win a seat at the table, collective bargaining.

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The dues are $20.12 per pay period for full time employees FOR 2024.

MDU and Council 3 are affiliated with AFSCME, a union of 1.4 million members nationwide. Being a part of the union offers a range of benefits from discounts on car rentals to home mortgage assistance. The benefit we are most excited about is the free college program that is offered to members and their families. Contact MDU at [email protected] for more information about benefits.

On October 1, all non-supervisory employees at OPD will have the right to bargain for better pay and working conditions as a union. Eligible core staff, attorneys, and social workers will be able to file for MDU’s certification election with the state labor board.