Welcome to the first edition of the official newsletter of the Maryland Defenders Union! It's an exciting time, as there have been a lot of recent firsts for the union:

  • We crossed the 200-member threshold at the beginning of September, getting us an official charter from AFSCME International as Local 423, the Maryland Defenders Union!
  • We had our first meeting with OPD management earlier this month, raising concerns we've heard from our members regarding the agency's COVID-19 response and demanding more assertive action. (More on this below!)
  • We had our first of two meetings to review our constitution and the proposed amendments to AFSCME's basic Local constitution last Monday. At the next meeting tonight, Monday, November 2, we'll formally read and vote on those amendments.
    • You can register for that meeting here, or reach out to AFSCME staff member Rachel Panciera at [email protected] with any questions. All dues-paying members are encouraged to attend!

In this edition of the newsletter: the MDU responds to a COVID outbreak in Baltimore; an analysis of salary data shows that OPD workers, especially core staffers, are seriously underpaid; the MDU issues a statement on judicial endorsements; we reiterate our support for the Black Lives Matter movement and all victims of police violence; and we stand in solidarity with our AFSCME brothers and sisters being targeted for layoffs at Frostburg State University. 

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At our first meeting with OPD management, MDU members raised numerous COVID-related concerns with OPD management, including:

  • The difficulty of telework for core staff, and the unavailability of resources (like laptops) that could make telework easier;
  • The barriers to effective and confidential communication with incarcerated clients; and
  • The lack of transparency and communication around management's COVID response.

We closed the meeting by asking management to join us to perform hazard assessments of OPD offices. A hazard assessment is a process in which a workplace is analyzed to determine where the risks to worker health and safety are highest and what steps can be taken to mitigate or eliminate those risks. So far, management has not committed to any hazard assessments, stating that more information is needed before it can do so.

A chart displaying the trend of COVID-19 cases in Maryland.

 COVID cases are once again rising rapidly in Maryland.

But recently, we faced a stark reminder of why delays are unacceptable. At the Wabash courthouse in Baltimore, four Judiciary employees tested positive for COVID-19 during the week of October 19th, and a fifth tested positive on the following Monday.

When this news broke, members of the MDU and AFSCME Local 3674 (the Judiciary Local) who work at Wabash met to share information and discuss what actions need to be taken to ensure their health and safety. Last Monday, October 25, the MDU and Local 3674 issued a joint statement with ten demands for actions to ensure the health and safety of everyone at the Wabash courthouse. You can read press coverage of those demands herehere, and here.

While we are glad that OPD management is encouraging employees to work remotely, we reiterate our call for management to provide all employees with the tools and resources necessary to safely and effectively work from home. We also sincerely hope that management will join us in hazard assessments as soon as possible to reduce the likelihood of future COVID outbreaks. Every day without hazard assessments, OPD workers are put at greater risk, and that is unacceptable.

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At the MDU blog, we recently published an analysis of public salary data that proves what OPD workers have probably long suspected:

  • Core staffers aren't paid a living wage;
  • Line attorneys are underpaid; and
  • Commitment to OPD is not rewarded.

A chart of employee salaries and time spent at OPD shows minimal gains each year, especially for core staff.

Read the full story here.

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On Election Day, voters across the state will be impacting the criminal justice system through their votes for judges to sit on the Circuit Court of Maryland. In Montgomery County, four seats are open to five candidates, four of whom are incumbent judges in the Circuit Court and one of whom is a challenger.

We were dismayed to learn that Paul DeWolfe and Allen Wolf, in their official capacities as the Maryland Public Defender and the Deputy Public Defender for Montgomery County, joined with the Montgomery County State’s Attorney to endorse those four incumbents. 

The Office of the Public Defender should not endorse judicial candidates without first communicating with its workers, nor should anyone endorse any candidates on behalf of our members. The MDU is an organization of public defenders, social workers, and support staff, founded on equality and unified advocacy on behalf of all issues that impact our members and clients. We hope that all judges treat our clients with the dignity, respect and fairness they deserve!

We'll see you all at the polls on Tuesday! If you see anything concerning at a polling place, call the ACLU of Maryland's election protection hotline at (443) 399-3229.

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With the recent news that the Montgomery County police officer who shot and killed Finan Berhe in May of this year will not face charges, we reiterate our support for all victims of police violence and brutalityBlack lives matter. Many of our clients have been endangered, hurt, or killed by police, and we fight daily against the conditions that allow for this sort of harassment. Proposed legislation to eliminate the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and enact other reforms is a step in the right direction, and we hope that it passes swiftly in the upcoming legislative session.

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We stand in solidarity with our twelve AFSCME brothers and sisters at Frostburg State University who are being unjustly targeted for layoffs. With a fund balance of $20 million and no furloughs or pay cuts for high-earning employees, these layoffs are unfair, unnecessary, and must be reversed.