A strong majority of public defenders have petitioned the state, asking that their union be recognized. The defenders—who work for the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS)—have been working for more than two years to gain a meaningful voice in their wages and working conditions.
[caption id="attachment_6056" align="alignright" width="300"]Public defender Lily Lockhart urges lawmakers to include the agency in the state collective bargaining law and help them gain a voice at work. Public defenders have been working for more than two years to gain a meaningful voice in their wages and working conditions.[/caption]
A glitch inadvertently left hundreds of public defenders and CPCS staff out of the state’s collective bargaining law. Working with SEIU Local 888, the defenders have sought to remedy that by passing legislation that would provide a path for them to choose collective bargaining. They filed a bill in the House last year and refiled their bill in both the House and Senate this year. On June 3, 2015 the proposed legislation was reported favorably by Joint Committee on Public Service and referred to the House Committee on Ways & Means.
On Tuesday, May 12, Lilly Lockhart, a staff attorney with CPCS in Lowell, testified before the legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Service about how collective bargaining could help resolve many long-standing problems at CPCS.
“Over the last two years, our records indicate over 19% of the non-management workforce has left or been replaced,” said Lockhart. “In 2011, I was hired with 35 other attorneys for the Children and Family Law Division. Today, there are only 9 of the [original] 35 still working for CPCS.”
The low salaries and the high turnover of staff at CPCS has been well documented in studies by the Mass Bar Association. For copies of “Doing Right by Those Who Labor for Justice: Fair and Equitable Compensation for Attorneys Serving the Commonwealth in its Criminal Courts” and the report of the Commission to Study Compensation of Assistant District Attorneys and Staff Attorneys for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, contact SEIU Local 888.
“By advocating for ourselves as employees of a state agency, we are also fighting for our clients,” said Benjamin Evans, Supervising Staff Attorney with CPCS in Fall River. “We hope to reduce turnover by collectively bargaining for a contract which makes our work sustainable, so our clients can benefit from having experienced advocates.”
More information about the campaign is at www.seiu888.org/massdefenders.