State Public Defenders Got Their Union. Now They Have a Contract.

Two years after forming a union through AFSCME to gain a voice in their workplace, Connecticut’s public defenders now have a collective bargaining agreement to cap their organizing efforts.

The legislature voted to support Local 381’s first-ever contract by a vote of 85-57 in the House and 20-13 in the Senate. (Click here to see how your State. Representative voted and click here to see how your State Senator voted.)

“The work we do is critically important to our communities and to the justice system,” Local 381 President Elisa Villa, who serves as a Supervisory Assistant Public Defender, said.  “Our salary, benefits and working conditions needed to be improved so we could continue to effectively represent our clients. That’s why we unionized in the first place.”

Securing the right to collectively bargain and then gaining contractual protection will bring stability to the public defenders, their families and the communities they serve.

“I love advocating for clients who need but can’t afford legal representation,” Local 381 Vice President Christopher Eddy, a Senior Assistant Public Defender, said. “Securing protection through Council 4 and benefiting from SEBAC agreement puts us on much stronger footing, and will help us retain our dedicated staff.”

Eddy's comment refers to several of the factors that motivated public defenders to seek the same benefits and safeguards extended to more than 14,000 AFSCME-represented Connecticut state employees. Those benefits and safeguards include a system for resolving grievances and “just cause” protections in disciplinary matters codified in the new bargaining unit contract.

In accordance with the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC) agreement that was modified in 2017, Local 381 members accepted three years of wage freezes and are contributing more to their pensions and health care. They will also receive 3.5% general wage increases in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021.

Additionally, as part of SEBAC Local 381 members will be shielded from layoffs through 2021. (Click here to read about the protections won for state employees in SEBAC 2017.)

Council 4 Staff Representative-Attorney Anthony Bento advocated for Local 381 in contract negotiations, while Council 4 Legislative Coordinators Brian Anderson and Zak Leavy spearheaded efforts to gain legislative approval.

“State public defenders took a big step forward when they unionized under the AFSCME umbrella,” Kevin Murphy, the Director of Collective Bargaining and Organizing for Council 4, remarked. “They demonstrated great patience and solidarity during negotiations. And they made a commitment to contact their state legislators to vote in support of their contract. It all came together.”