Philadelphia’s public defenders vote to unionize

Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A majority of some 200 attorneys at the Defender Association of Philadelphia have voted to unionize.

The results of several rounds of voting in a National Labor Relations Board election process were finalized Monday evening. A press release from the Defenders Union indicated that the election was won in favor of unionization with 142 votes in favor and 65 against.

“The Defenders Union was born out of a strong desire for transparency and for a greater voice in the decision-making processes that guide our practice,” reads a statement from the Defenders Union. “Now with the power of collective bargaining, we will improve our workplace, promote criminal justice reform, and strengthen our client representation.”

The final decision comes a little after two months since employees announced their intent to seek representation from the United Automobile Workers, a manufacturing workers’ union that has organized other legal aid groups elsewhere in the country.

Defenders Union organizers had initially sought to win voluntary recognition from management. However, those negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful, triggering the NLRB election process.

In a prepared statement, officials at the Defenders Association struck a positive note, pledging to work cooperatively with the newly formed employee union.

“The Defender Association of Philadelphia congratulates the Defender Union on a successful campaign to unionize our Defender attorneys,” wrote George Jackson, communications director for the Defender Association. “We look forward to working in partnership with the union to advance our shared mission to provide high-quality legal defense and support to Philadelphia’s most vulnerable citizens.”

The publicly funded nonprofit employs 240 public defenders in total and represents about 70% of all individuals arrested for criminal offenses or probation violations in Philadelphia at no cost.

The office receives the majority of its $46 million budget directly from City Hall, but operates as an independent organization for legal reasons.

This is a developing story and will be updated as additional information becomes available.

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