Skip to main content

Public defenders in Maryland unite to make voices heard with AFSCME Council 3

Public defenders in Maryland unite to make voices heard with AFSCME Council 3
By Meredith Scalos ·

With widespread community support, workers from the Maryland Office of the Public Defender (OPD) announced their effort to unionize with AFSCME last week. OPD workers have formed the Maryland Defenders Union (MDU), and will join the over 28,000 workers represented by AFSCME Maryland Council 3. Unmanageable caseloads, unsafe reopening of offices and the courts and chronic understaffing are among reasons the workers have chosen to organize.

“The judicial system must be run as safely as possible for our clients and ourselves, and it must continue to function during the pandemic,” said Cynthia Christiani, an assistant public defender in Baltimore City, a 14-year veteran of OPD.  “So far, front-line workers have had no say in how to open courts safely while ensuring justice for our clients. We deserve to have a voice in how the work is done. That’s why we are organizing.”

Long histories of the budget cuts to OPD resulting in higher caseloads and burnout in workers are key issues for the support staff, social workers and lawyers who are organizing. As many as 700 OPD staff are in line to form MDU.

“Nobody works at the Office of the Public Defender to get rich,” said Afrika Kwanaa, an administrative aide in Anne Arundel County. “We do it because we care about justice. It’s unfair for Governor Hogan to balance the budget on the backs of state employees.”

“We work every day to hold the state of Maryland together during a pandemic, but we should not have to risk our health to do so,” Kwanaa said, adding that safety is a common concern among OPD staff.

The MDU organizing committee said the reopening processes have been rushed, leaving OPD workers and their clients exposed to unsafe conditions that risk their and their families’ health.

Council 3 expressed excitement at the new unionizing effort and about the growing the number of Maryland state workers and higher education employees who have a voice on the job.

“I’m happy to welcome the employees of the Office of the Public Defender in to the AFSCME Council 3 family. Like all Council 3 members they selflessly serve the residents of Maryland every day,” said Patrick Moran, president of Council 3.

“As these employees advocate for justice and civil rights, they deserve to have a voice and rights on the job that tens of thousands of other state employees have on their jobs,” Moran continued. “This is why we are proud to support the employees at the Office of the Public Defender to form their union with AFSCME.”

Now more than ever, organizing public service workers is a core part of ensuring our communities are strong after this year’s public health and economic crises. This is a first step for the MDU, but a vital one in ensuring that public employees and our communities can heal and thrive.

Related Posts