WHAT'S NEW WITH MDU #3: special legislative edition!

Welcome to the SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE TAKEOVER of the official newsletter of the Maryland Defenders Union! In this issue:

  • Our plan to win merit status for OPD attorneys in this year's legislative session and how you can help!
  • Updates on the MDU's health-and-safety campaign: vaccines, telework, client protection, and more!
  • And the second official core staff happy hour!

Read on to learn more!

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Great Marylander Frederick Douglass once said, "Power concedes nothing without a demand." Maryland's annual legislative session began on January 13th, and MDU is making our demands! Our signature legislation, sponsored by Senator Jill Carter and Delegate Shaneka Henson, would convert OPD attorneys from at-will employees to merit employees. This will give our lawyers the same protections that our core staff, social workers, and most other state employees (including Paul DeWolfe himself) already possess.

Currently, an OPD lawyer can be fired for any reason, or no reason at all, and have no recourse whatsoever. Merit workers are guaranteed access to fair and transparent hiring, promotion, grievance, and disciplinary procedures. Merit status would also:

  • guarantee anti-discrimination protections to OPD attorneys and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion inside the agency;
  • encourage recruitment and retention by assuring stability and fairness in employment; and
  • ensure that public defenders can zealously advocate on behalf of our clients and speak up about workplace and courthouse issues without fear of reprisal.

Gaining merit status for OPD attorneys is the first step toward winning collective bargaining rights for ALL OPD workers. It's through collective bargaining that we would have a seat at the table for contract negotiations and could fight for the rights and benefits we all deserve, like better pay, career advancement, sustainable workloads, and more.

You can help!

  • On  Monday, February 8 from 5:30PM to 8:00PM, join us for a Zoom Lobby Night, in which we'll speak with legislators about our experiences and advocate for the bill. Register here!
  • If you're new to lobbying or legislative advocacy, we're hosting a Legislative Training on Friday, February 3 from 7:00PM to 8:00PM. Register here!
  • And you can write a letter to your legislator asking them to support our bill! Go to this link, enter your information, and click "start writing." You'll see a list of your legislators and some suggested language for the letter, which you can add to or edit. Make sure to mention the Maryland Defenders Union's legislation, sponsored by Senator Carter and Delegate Henson! Email [email protected] if you need more tips.

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We're doing much more than just winning merit status for attorneys in this year's session!

  • We're fighting for our clients and communities as part of a statewide coalition of over 90 organizations demanding police accountability and court reform! Read more about this critical work here.
  • MDU members will be testifying in a variety of legislative hearings, covering topics like OPD's budget, the state's approach to health and safety, and telework reform efforts!
  • And on a future date TBD, there will be a hearing on our signature legislation! Watch your email for more info.

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OPD workers remain on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the MDU is continuing to fight for the health and safety of our clients, our communities, and ourselves!

  • Our incarcerated clients are at significant risk for COVID-19 exposure and transmission, and must be prioritized under any vaccine distribution plan. But Maryland currently plans to prioritize only the oldest DOC inmates, despite sixteen deaths from COVID already. The MDU is taking action by circulating a petition calling for pretrial and compassionate releaseamnesty, and priority vaccine access for all incarcerated persons. The petition is currently at more than 400 signatures, and we plan to deliver it to Chief Judge Barbera and other decision makers soon! The more signatures it has, the greater the impact, so sign it if you haven't already and share it as widely as possible!
  • In Baltimore City, DPSCS has stopped testing incarcerated persons before bringing them to court, putting those people, other detainees, and their attorneys at risk. AFSCME Council 3 President Patrick Moran and MDU President Marci Tarrant Johnson are quoted in the Baltimore Sun about the dangerous policy. Saving money can't take priority over health and safety!
  • Core staffers in several counties told the MDU they feared that OPD was prioritizing attorneys over core staffers for vaccine access, without regard to who had to work in court or interact with clients in person. In response, the MDU wrote to Public Defender Paul DeWolfe last week, requesting not only equity in the vaccine process but continued improvements in communication regarding COVID-19 and continued emphasis on telework whenever possible. You can read the full letter here.

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Tonight at 6pm, the MDU Core Staff committee hosts their second Happy Hour! This is a space for non-attorney OPD workers to discuss the specific issues they face at the workplace and how the union can help. At this meeting, the Core Staff committee will be unveiling their mission statement and core values! Register for the meeting here.