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The Maryland Defenders Union takes on a COVID outbreak at a Baltimore courthouse

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By AFSCME Council 3 ·
The Maryland Defenders Union takes on a COVID outbreak at a Baltimore courthouse

When a member contacts the newly chartered Maryland Defenders Union (MDU), Local 423 (AFSCME Maryland Council 3), the local acts swiftly and gets results as a recent example demonstrates. 

On Oct. 19, an assistant public defender at the Wabash Courthouse contacted the local because she was getting scared to show up for work because a number of clerks had tested positive for COVID-19. Even before the positive cases were revealed, the member had witnessed extremely lax enforcement of screening rules and she worried that the reception area curtain –their only separation from the public –was insufficient protection. There were other concerns, including courthouse ventilation.

The MDU Organizing Committee (OC) called an emergency meeting to consider the member’s complaints. At that meeting, the OC also learned that the judiciary members at the Wabash Courthouse had been flooding Council 3 with phone calls with similar concerns. The OC joined forces with the judiciary local, Local 3674, and called a Wabash-specific meeting open to all employees.

MDU OC member Sally Larsen described the Oct. 22 meeting with “judiciary employees who report they are not being allowed to telework; when they express concerns about coming in to the office, they say the response is too often punitive.”

The workers defined a wide range of problems and together came up with a list of demands to be made as soon as possible in a letter to the courthouse administration. The workers also publicized their concerns to the media and prepared to brief state legislators.

At their most recent meeting on Oct.29, state Sen. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) joined the members to hear their concerns. At the close of that meeting, he pledged to draft a letter to Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals demanding action to address those concerns. AFSCME members await Barbera’s response.

The members’ efforts have already started to yield results. They have been told that the Office of the Public Defender has closed the Wabash office within the courthouse, and judiciary members report that the courts have installed plexiglass dividers to separate some workers. However, the courts have a long way to go and the members of MDU and Local 3674 will not rest until all Courthouse employee concerns are resolved and no worker is packed tightly with others in the midst of a pandemic. The committee will be circulating a petition with members’ demands in the coming week.

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