Public defenders demanding collective bargaining rights

Say loophole in state law is leading to high turnover

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – If you need to be represented by an attorney and cannot afford one, a public defender is appointed to represent you. But those attorneys, as well as other legal employees and social workers who help poor clients, say that they are dealing with high turnover.

Dozens of attorneys and other workers held rallies at courthouses in Springfield, Boston, and Worcester on Monday morning.

The public defenders say that part of the turnover problem has to do with the fact that, because of a loophole in state law, they do not have the collective bargaining rights enjoyed by other state employees. Public defenders are paid by the state, which also provides healthcare coverage and pensions for them.

“Since we don’t have collective bargaining rights we don’t have any kind of reliability in our employment. Other agencies, they can depend on regular pay increases, they can depend on grievance procedures, they can depend on a set procedure for moving up in the agency and at CPCS (Committee for Public Counsel Services), we don’t have that,” trial attorney Trevor Maloney said.

They are supporting a bill before the state legislature that would allow employees of the Committee for Public Counsel Services to bargain collectively for their pay and benefits. Maloney said that if this bill comes up for a vote at the State House, multiple senators and representatives from western Massachusetts will vote yes.

At Monday’s protest, the defenders stressed the fact that they don’t take these jobs for fame, but do expect to make a living wage.