Organizing gets raises – but only collective bargaining can make those raises fair, equitable, and permanent

One year ago, the Maryland Defenders Union formed because OPD workers are underpaid and overworked, and our clients are suffering as a result. Yesterday, we won long-overdue change on one of those fronts, with raises promised for many attorneys within OPD. However, as a union of core staff, social workers and attorneys, we are outraged that 60% of our union was left behind – particularly the dedicated core staffers who are already paid the least. The only path to equitable compensation within OPD is collective bargaining between the union and management.

We know our organizing efforts are having an impact. Earlier this year, MDU members testified before the legislature about the OPD budget crisis. For the first time ever, legislators heard directly from OPD workers about our jobs, salaries, and overwhelming caseloads. When OPD management testified during the same hearing, they did not ask for funding for any OPD workers. In fact, Paul DeWolfe testified that the agency can support cuts to core staff, and he only advocated for increasing panel attorney wages.

The discrepancy between MDU’s testimony and the testimony of OPD management was dramatic, and it sparked immediate action. As a direct result of MDU’s testimony, the legislature compelled the agency to conduct a wage study, comparing OPD attorney salaries to those in other states and districts. The results were equally dramatic, showing that OPD pays significantly less than almost every other jurisdiction examined. They are attached here for your review. Our own internal research shows core staff compensation lags DRASTICALLY behind that of other agencies, and that core staff pay is not just insultingly low, but so stagnant that it does not even keep up with inflation from year to year. Yesterday’s announcement is just another example of management prioritizing attorneys over core staffers and social workers, who weren’t even mentioned in the email! This would be unacceptable in any agency, but it is particularly egregious in one that claims to pride itself on “justice, fairness, and dignity for all."

Source: MDU and AFSCME International research

While we are thrilled that 270 of our colleagues have been promised raises, these promises are neither transparent nor guaranteed. Every member of this agency deserves consistent raises and adequate compensation secured through a binding contract, not sent to the agency in an ad-hoc email. The way to guarantee fair, frequent, and equitable pay raises is to win the right to collectively bargain as a union.

Yesterday’s announcement shows that organizing the union has already brought some change to the agency, but if we want to take the next step and win collective bargaining, we need to build power within MDU. OPD administration will say they’re trying to make improvements, but if we want yearly step increases, cost of living adjustments, fair and equitable policies, safe working conditions, and manageable workloads for everyone at OPD, not just a select few, we need to fight and we need to win.

Now is a critical time. The more people that help us build union power, the more we can win for every OPD worker. Here’s how you can help:

  1. Join the union by signing a card today. Dues are $17.93 per pay period and go towards funding our efforts to improve our jobs and our livelihoods. Union membership also comes with a host of benefits available to members and our families, including free online college, discounts on car insurance, mortgage financing, and much, much more.
  2. Attend our MDU Picnic in the Park this Saturday from 11AM-1PM in Bowie, MD. There will be lots of food and fun family-friendly activities. Register here:
  3. Attend our Legislative Training on September 29th, and learn more about our work with elected representatives. Sign up here.
  4. Join the MDU Organizing Committee and become a union organizer! If interested, send an email to [email protected]