In this edition of the newsletter:

  • An update on the legislative session, including our merit conversion legislation and MDU testimony about OPD's budget;
  •  report from the meeting between MDU's Executive Board and the OPD Board of Trustees;
  • MDU's endorsement of an exciting campaign to pass the PRO Act;
  • And plans for our April General Body Meeting!

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On March 20, HB1277, our merit conversion bill, passed the House of Delegates by a margin of 92 to 40! This is a huge victory that would not have been possible without all the calls, emails, and letters to legislators sent by MDU members and allies. But if we want OPD attorneys to gain merit status, and get all the protections from unfair and arbitrary discipline that OPD social workers and core staffers already have, we can't stop now.

The next step for the bill is to pass the Senate Finance Committee, and we need your help to clear this next hurdle on the way to HB1277 becoming law. Call (877) 547-5021 to be connected to a member of the Finance Committee, and tell them that you support HB1277!

I’m calling to ask the Senator to consider and pass HB1277. It matters to me that public defenders in Maryland have fair and equitable workplace protections. If public defenders are protected, they will be unafraid in advocating for changes within and without their agency that help their clients. It’s a no-brainer. The chief Public Defender, as well as core staff and social workers in the OPD, are all merit employees. So are other professional employees hired by the State, including doctors and psychiatrists. Public defense is too important to be at-will. Please reconsider and pass HB1277.

If there's no answer, just leave a voicemail with your name and number. These calls make a huge difference – legislators actually count how many messages they receive supporting a bill. So call (877) 547-5021 today, and let's get HB1277 through the Senate!

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Each year, the Maryland Legislature hears testimony regarding OPD's proposed budget, usually just from OPD Administration. At this year's hearing, Paul DeWolfe spent most of his testimony taking credit for cost-cutting measures and advocating for more money for panel attorneys. In the past, that could have been the only perspective the legislators heard about OPD's budget.

But this year was different. Three MDU members testified at the budget hearing, presenting the legislators with the perspectives of front-line workers for the first time ever.

  • MDU President Marci Johnson (attorney, Baltimore City) testified about the crushing workloads faced across the agency, describing her ninety serious cases and the manner in which insufficient resources deny our clients the representation they deserve.
  • MDU Secretary-Treasurer Cheryl Hughes-Redd (paralegal, Forensics Division) spoke about how understaffing forces many core staffers to work the equivalent of multiple jobs inside OPD, and how underpayment forces many of those same core staffers to work second jobs outside OPD just to make ends meet.
  • MDU Member Katie Cook (social worker, Montgomery County) described how "almost every public defender client would benefit from having a social worker," but with only 22 full-time staff social workers for all of OPD, "very few clients have that opportunity."

To fight for our clients, we need to fight for ourselves! Thank you to Marci, Cheryl, and Katie for their testimony!

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On March 13, members of the MDU Executive Board met with the OPD Board of Trustees to discuss our merit legislation and, more generally, the union’s formation and priorities. Many OPD employees don’t know what the Board of Trustees does (or even that it exists at all), and the MDU looks forward to more meetings with the Board leading to greater understanding of their role in the agency and increased representation of worker perspectives in their decision-making.

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The MDU has joined with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, the Democratic Socialists of America, and other labor organizations to endorse the PRO Act and fight for its passage! The "Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act" is a bill passed by the House in February that would strengthen federal labor law and give private-sector workers more protections and greater ability to organize for livable wages, hours, and benefits. AFSCME International has already endorsed the PRO Act, because while most AFSCME members are public sector employees, "both private and public sector workers deserve the right to organize and bargain collectively to improve their working conditions."

The bill is now in the Senate, where a small number of Democratic senators are currently preventing its passage, and that's where this campaign comes in. The Baltimore chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is hosting a Town Hall on April 8th at 6pm, featuring organizers in labor, racial, and environmental justice talking about how the fight for worker rights is a fight for us all. RSVP here: bit.ly/pro_act_town_hall. And keep an eye out for invitations to upcoming phone banks and other opportunities to help pass the biggest labor reform since the New Deal!

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MDU's next General Body Meeting is Wednesday, April 7 at 7pm and open to all MDU members! At this meeting, the Executive Board will update members on recent union news, then talk about our next steps and how you can get involved! A registration link was sent out to members yesterday and will be sent next week as well. Come listenask questions, and hang out with your union siblings.

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Artist's depiction of MDU's stunning membership growth

Our ranks continue to swell as more and more OPD workers join the MDU! But to advocate forcefully for ourselves and our clients, we need to keep growing. If you haven’t signed your union card yet, what are you waiting forSign your card today! And if you have already signed your card, talk to your friends and coworkers about the union and why it’s so important that we make sure OPD workers have a say in how the agency is run! Email [email protected] with any questions!